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16Apr

Italian Archaeologists Found a Classic 'Gate to Hell'

Archaeologists working at the Greco-Roman site of ancient Hierapolis (modern-day Pamukkale) in Turkey have uncovered the city's "gate to the underworld". In classical times, a small temple with traditional Greco-Roman pillars was said to have stood next to a wall with steps leading down to a cave doorway filled with foul and noxious gasses. A team led by Italian archaeologist Francesco D'Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento, has discovered what they believe to be the ruins of the site.

Digital illustration of what the temple to Hades might have looked like
Francesco D'Andria

Gate to hell

An engraved dedication to Pluto above the entrance has confirmed the identification of the gate. Pilgrims from around the classical world came to Hierapolis to bathe in its hot springs and worship at the Ploutonion – a temple precinct built over a cave and underground thermal area. Describing the site, the Greek geographer Strabo (64-63 BC-24 AD) said: 'This space is full of a vapour so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. 'Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.'

Eunuch priests of Pluto would prove their power by entering the gassy cleft and coming out alive.

House-shaped tomb near the spring where the ‘Gates of Hell’ once stood
Alamy

Excavations

Announcing the discovery at a conference on Italian archaeology in Istanbul, Prof D'Andria said he and his team had managed to pinpoint the location by reconstructing the route of a thermal spring.

During the modern excavations, dead birds at the site helped convince the archaeological team they'd found the Ploutonion's actual "gate to hell."

Future excavations will focus on the upper precinct, where they expect to find a massive temple to Pluto.


National Geographic: Archaeologists Find a Classic Entrance to Hell