Ancient portal to underworld discovered

Ancient portal to underworld discovered


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PAMUKKALE, Turkey — Italian archaeologists have discovered what ancient Greeks and Romans believed to be a portal to the underworld, located in an ancient Phrygian city in modern-day Turkey.

The find was announced earlier this month at a conference in Istanbul. Archaeologists led by Francesco D'Andria from the University of Salento, in southern Italy, made the discovery while excavating ruins in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

The gateway, known as Pluto's Gate, was celebrated as the entrance point to hell in Greco-Roman mythology. It was referred to in the writings of both Cicero and Greek geographer Strabo, both of whom had visited the Hierapolis Plutonium, as it was known in Latin.

Pluto's Gate was described by ancient writers as a cave just large enough for one person to enter through a fenced entrance. A staircase would lead a person down a corridor from which carbon dioxide gas from geologic activity emerged.

"This space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death," Strabo wrote. "I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell."

Ancient visitors were said to sacrifice bulls to Pluto before making pilgrimages into Plutonium. Priests led the bulls to the entrance of the cave, from which carbon dioxide emerged, killing the bulls.

The area has been under excavation since a 1957 mission was started by Italian archaeologist Paolo Verzone. The focus of digs since has been to find Plutonium, according to ANSA.


I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.

–Strabo


D'Andria told Discovery News the archaeologists found the gate by reconstructing the route of a thermal spring. He said the team of researchers found broken ruins, possibly damaged by an earthquake, and Ionic semi columns with inscriptions at the top dedicated to Pluto and Kore, gods of the underworld.

They also found a temple, pool and steps around the cave matching ancient descriptions of the area.

"People could watch the sacred rites from these steps, but they could not get to the area near the opening. Only the priests could stand in front of the portal," D'Andria said.

The discovery confirms the claims of ancient literary sources, according to researchers, and represents "an important pilgrimage destination for the last pagan intellectuals of the Late Antiquity," according to Alister Filippini, a researcher in Roman history.

The site will be digitally reconstructed to aid archaeologists with further research.

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Stephanie Grimes

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