Licking up the Lycos Valley

Wednesday, 5th December,
Pamukkale, Hierapolis, Laodicea, Colossae

For all photos for 5th December, click here to view them on my dropbox site. If you don’t have Dropbox, use this link to sign up and you and I will both get a bonus amount of free storage space.

Today was a big day in terms of places to see, things to absorb and photos to take. We are in the Lycos Valley, staying at a hotel near the modern-day village of Pamukkale, which is ancient Hierapolis. All the places we visited today are within about 1/2 hours drive, so there was not much travelling.

Pamukkale, our first port of call was just down the road from our hotel. I can vividly remember as a kid seeing a faded poster advertising Mediterranean tours which featured people swimming in snow-white pools of steaming turquoise coloured water high up on a hillside. Today, I finally saw where that picture was taken, but alas, there is no more swimming on the hillside. Within the last decade the area has been declared a UN World Heritage spot, and, in order to preserve the unique white travertine rock that form from calcium deposits from the hot springs flowing out of the top of the hill, human traffic has been limited to barefoot traffic along a small pathway. There is also a severe lack of water at the moment, and I understand they are supplementing the water flow, so I did not see the poster-picture turquoise pools.

No matter, we could swim in the hot pools at our hotel. What we had come to see was the ancient city of Hierapolis. Actually people came here as long ago as the 2nd Century BC for exactly the same purpose that they come today, to “take the waters”, and a thriving city grew up in the area, including large bath complexes and (because so many aged and sick people came to the area for relief from their ailments) large necropoli. Among the other attractions are a large theatre (currently being restored) and agora (mainly now marked by a grove of candle pines). But for me, and many others in the group, the real attraction was the Martyrium of St Philip outside the old Byzantine walls (which were inside the previous Roman walls) on a hill on the northwest of the site.

The Martyrium is an interesting building in itself: a huge octagonal church dating from about the mid-5th century, with a number of rooms forming a square around the outside. It is supposed that this was a centre of pilgrimage, as indicated by the “pilgrims way” road, bridge and staircase leading up to the hill from the city. The rooms around the outside would have been for the pilgrims and the burial place of St Philip (it was always supposed) in the centre of the church under the dome. However, while the floor of the Martyrium has not been excavated, a site just a little down on the Eastern side of the hill has been, and in mid-2011 it was announced that the original tomb of the Apostle (and it is the apostle, not the deacon/evangelist who had the seven daughters, cf. Acts 21:8 – there was some confusion about this this morning at the site but I have checked a number of websites on the matter) Philip had been found (cf. In the nearby vicinity there are quite a lot of Greek and Roman tombs (Rosemary said she recalled reading that one of them has a menorah on it but we didn’t have time to search), and the “tomb of the apostle” is just like these, dating from the 1st Century. It has been incorporated into a small church built at about the same time as the Martyrium. That in itself is significant, but the thing that has clinched it in the mind of many, is that this finally explains the design on a “bread stamp” from Hierapolis in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which depicts St Philip standing between two churches, one with a dome, the other the shape of a Roman tomb, both with stairs leading up to them. If you look at the picture on the page on the link given above, you will see this clearly, and, allowing for the fact that as a stamp, the image is back-to-front, you will see that the pointed structure is on the right side (in both senses) of the domed structure.

Two points of interest:

1) on the tomb is inscribed a single word in Greek (I am transcribing it in English letters): APOLLEINARIOS. Anyone got any idea of what that might mean? There was a famous bishop Apollinaris of Laodicea (not very far from here) who was the one who gave us the word “homo-ousious” or “consubstantial” in the Nicene Creed. He lived at about the time the church over the tomb would have been built.

2) Hakan opined that it is unlikely that the tomb of St Philip could be what it claims to be, since all but one of the apostles were martyred, and if they were martyred, there was no way in which we would know what happened to their bodies. John being the exception, as he died of old age, we know where his remains are. I disagreed with him on both counts, as the cases of Peter and Paul are clear instances of knowing where the bodies of two martyred apostles are, and that as far as my inquiries had led me to understand, John’s remains are no longer in the tomb at Ephesus. After the rest of the group went exploring, the two of us had a spirited discussion on this matter, and on the relationship between tradition and history.

The relics of St Thomas are not, of course, at Hierapolis any more. They were moved to Constantinople over a thousand years ago, and the most likely place you will find them today is the place that the Roman Church claims they now are: in the Church of the 12 Apostles in Rome next to the relics of St James. However, I did take the time to sit between the Martyrium and the tomb and to pray for my parish, St Philip’s Blackburn North, for all its members and for their priest, Fr Nicholas Dillon.

We only had two hours on the site, so this did not leave a lot of time for further exploring. I set off down the hill towards the Agora, and made my way back south towards the entrance on the city. I passed an interesting sight on my right (the east) as I walked back – a Roman tomb half submerged in the white travertine rock. Nearby were some workers with a jackhammer clearing one of the water conduits. Hakan told us that unlike other excavation cites, much of Hierapolis has had to be either chiselled or jack hammered out of the rock, as it is covered in just this hard deposit of travertine. A little further on, I saw a large number of workers on the travertine slopes, working among the luke-warm waters. I wasn’t sure what they were doing, but Hakan informs me they were cleaning the rocks.

On the way back, I detoured for a visit the ruins of the city’s official cathedral. The whole city was always prone to earthquakes, as a large fault line runs through the Valley of the River Lycos, in which Hierapolis, Laodicea and Colossae were all situated. It is because of this fault line that the hot springs are here in the first place. Hierapolis was wrecked a number of time by earthquakes in its history, but a final quake in the 7th Century did the city in and it was never fully resettled again.

I was running short of time, but there was one last thing I just had to do. I went over to the south-west edge of the hill where there path down to Pamukkale began through the travertine pools, took off my shoes and waded into the lukewarm flowing water. The rocks were indeed very slippery, so I had to watch my step. It was very pleasant and relaxing, and I wished that I had the time to walk all the way down the path to the bottom. But on a guided tour there are always time limits, and so I rushed on to the front gates to catch the bus.

We had lunch at a nearby buffet restaurant. I am becoming a little bored with the general Turkish buffet layout, which ultimately develops something of a sameness about it everywhere you go. Not without the occasional surprise, however. I took a helping of each of the cooked vegetable dishes, only to find back at the table that it was all cold. The yoghurt dip made it taste better.

Then we visited a very big location indeed – in both size and significance: Laodicea (or Laodikeia as it was on the signs). The main biblical significance of this city is its inclusion in the “seven churches” of the book of the Revelation, in which it gets pretty short shrift from the Lord (cf. Rev 3:14ff). It is mentioned in St Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Col 4:12ff), where he asks the Colossians to extend his greetings to the church in Laodicea – the two places are only about ten or twelve kilometres apart. Hakan is convinced that, although we do not have any documentary evidence, Paul would have passed through either or both of Colossae and Laodicea on his journey from Pisidian Antioch to Ephesus because this is the way the road lead, and the these were the major cities in the Lycos Valley.

Laodicea is a bigger site than Colossae (at least at the present) which we will come to in a moment. In fact it is a kilometre or more from one end to the other. This is a working excavation, being undertaken by an Italian team, and they are being very busy digging up new things and restoring the old structures. Hakan says that every time he visits, there is something new that has been turned up or reconstructed. This time was no different. Hakan had engaged the services of one of the archaeologists on the site to show us around. The archaeologist, unfortunately, could speak no English, but he did take us to working spots, and in some cases allowed us to enter sites that were otherwise blocked off to visitors. I know you all want me to talk about the Roman and Hellenistic buildings, but you will have to excuse my own particular interests and put up with me waxing lyrical about the 4th Century church known as the “Laodicea Holy Excursion Church” for a little bit. This has already been identified and described in various books (including the latest guides to the city – a very good one is available for 3 lira in the kiosk shop on site), but the excavation is still going on and full publication of results has not yet been made, so we were not allowed to take any pictures inside the building. But I won’t be telling any tales out of school if I say this (a piece of information already in said guide book): the church has eleven apses! The main apse faces just a little south of East (that in itself may be of interest), either side of it, at the end of the two side aisles, are two more apses, and then there are another eight apses, four down each side aisle. What does this mean? Is each apse to be taken as a “side chapel”? If so, this is a very early (and oddly eastern) example of such a construction. What does it mean liturgically?

Other things of note. An impressive reconstruction has been done of “Temple A” – probably associated with the cult of the Roman Emperor and originally built in the second century AD. It was renovated by the Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the 3rd and 4th Centuries, just in time for the legalisation of Christianity under Constantine. During the Christian period, the temple was used as an archive until an earthquake destroyed it in the late 5th Century. The restoration gives a good sense of the original construction and includes a “sky deck” kind of arrangement where the inner sanctuary would have been over a basement which has been excavated. Another site, around which there is a lot of present activity, is the “Sacred Area Precinct”. This site is under current reconstruction, with a number of the columns along the edge of the precinct having been raised up again. Further, more excavations have recently shown that the length of this precinct is at least 50 meters longer than previously thought, making it the longest columned portico yet uncovered. See the photos for impressive pictures.

Next stop, Colossae, Rosemary’s self confessed “love of her life”. I am sure her husband has no need to feel jealous, as it is just a mound of dirt and rocks. Of course, it is much more than that. It is an unexcavated tel, like Lystra a couple of days ago, or Konya. Like Lystra, it is out in the countryside surrounded by farms, near the village of Honaz, under the shade of Mount Honaz, or Mt Cadmus as it was known in ancient times. Unlike Lystra, it is potentially a huge site, possibly as big as Laodicea. Rosemary was very excited to show us around, and point out features of (possible future) interest, such as the odeon (small theatre) on the eastern side of the tel. It is underground, of course, but the shape and a few rocks here and there give its original nature away. Rosemary also told us the story of one of her previous visits, when they found a column fragment down by the creek with the inscription on it “Marcus son of Marcus, chief interpreter of Colossae”. They photographed this piece and have published on it, but when they came back again at a later time the piece was gone – either washed away in a flood or… Anyway, they can make a couple of deductions from this find: a “chief” interpreter means that there must have been many others, and that it was a kind of office within the city. From the fact that Colossae had a role for a number of official interpreters, one can deduct that it was both a major trading centre and that it was a quite sizable town. Bits and pieces like this are turning up all the time around the site, and the local farmers – with whom the leader of Rosemary’s expedition would spend long hours sharing conversation over a bottle of proffered drink – are forever turning up bits and pieces which they give to friends and neighbours. The site is under the authority of the same group doing the Laodicean excavation; if they wait till they have finished Laodicea before beginning Colossae, it will be a long wait before we see anything significant of the secrets that the tel holds under the surface. As a side note, I think I have found the perfect job: site guard of the Tel of Colossae. A single guard keeps watch at the site, and his quarters are a very small transportable hut with a couch, a wood stove, and tea making facilities. A veritable hermitage.

By this stage, it was after four o’clock and getting quite dark, so we returned to the hotel. I worked outside for a bit while there was still light, but by 6:00pm it was too dark and too cold to keep at it. Inside, I found the washing I had put on the line in the bathroom dry enough to pack and the washing that I had sent to the laundry (jeans and trousers – they don’t really dry well enough with just a couple of nights) back in the wardrobe. I packed my bags for the morning, and went down to mass. It has been a great feature of the trip to have daily mass – I missed last night’s mass due to doing my laundry, but arrived in time for communion, so I have been able to receive communion every day on the journey. After dinner, I went to the baths again. No massage tonight. The water was hotter than last night’s luke warm (we were reflecting on the letter to the Laodiceans earlier in the day: “because you are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth” Rev 3:16), and much more pleasant for the aching muscles. I joined three of our group’s “senators” already in the baths, but did not join in their plotting. I also used the sauna (much too hot) and the spa bath before returning to my room. By this time I was much too relaxed to do any more work and simply went to bed.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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