Today began with a long drive north out of Antalya, following the general route of the via Sebaste. I was struck by several things on the four hour drive to Laodicea. First, most people reading Acts do not realize how high the Tarsus Mountains are. Paul traveled more than 3000 feet above sea level on a Roman Road to reach Pisidian Antioch. Second, our guide Mark Wilson did a masterful job explaining the network of roads in the area and relating this to the beginnings of the second missionary journey in Acts 16.
There are two prohibitions in that chapter (to not preach in Asia and to not enter Bithynia). By observing the Roman province names and the location of the roads, The prohibitions make sense. Paul was in Asia already, so he was not to preach there, but the road went north toward Bithynia, so he was command to even to enter there. A third observation is simply that this part of the country is sparsely populated both then and now.
Before arriving at Laodicea we made a brief stop at Colossae. There is virtually nothing to see there except the unexcavated mound. The city was small and unimportant in Paul’s day, and it is still a sadly overlooked site by the archaeological community. Despite several efforts in recent years, there is not much to see there.
Laodicea on the other hand has received a great deal of attention lately. Year round excavations by the local university and the support of the Denizli community has revived interest in this large Roman site. Although the two theaters have no been restored, some work has been done once smaller, morning theater. The skene has been exposed and a great deal of work is being done there. A very large fifth century church has been excavated and restored, but was closed when we visited. I suspect this was to force me to buy the book.
Another recent discovery is a marble pillar with a menorah, shofar and perhaps and etrog, with a prominent cross cut into the top of the menorah. Mark Wilson suggested is was an indication the pillar was used in a synagogue, and the cross was added later (perhaps as a sign of supercessionism after Christianity became dominant in the city). I wondered if this was the intent, since it would be just as easy to obliterate the menorah. Based on Josephus, there is little doubt of a Jewish presence in Laodicea in the first century Josephus (Ant 14.241–3). Nevertheless the menorah seems to be evidence of a Jewish community in Laodicea well into the Christian Era.
From Laodicea we drove the short distance to Hierapolis. Hierapolis is a very large Roman city, although the association with the white cliffs of Pamukkale, a Turkish word meaning something like “Cotton Castle.” There was an early Christian community in Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) but there is no evidence Paul ever visited the city.
We took a shuttle up to the martyrion of Philip, an octagonal church built on the site of the martyrdom of Philip (although which Philip is unclear). The walls of the church have been nicely reconstructed and the arches between the sections of the octagon are restored. Next to the martyrion is the recently discovered tomb of Philip and accompanying chapel.
The shuttle the took us down to the large theater. This theater has been restored, although visitors are only allowed to walk on the upper section. The skene has been partially rebuilt and there are two statues in the niches. Originally the theater seated up to 15,000 people. From the theater we walked down the hill past the Temple of Apollo and tried to get a peek into the recently discovered Plutonian. If you visited Hierapolis more than a few years ago, you would have been shown a different location since this new (and certain) location is a recent discovery. Unfortunately the area was fenced off, so I was unable to see if the gates of hell will not prevail.
After a short time on the white cliffs of Pamukkale we walked out the northern gates and through the necropolis where over a thousand tombs are located, with about three hundred inscriptions. I took photographs of many, but so many of the tombs were well off the main path and we had to be out of the park by 6:00 PM. It was also bitterly cold and windy (which is good for a walk in a necropolis I suppose!)
We ended the day at the Hotel Colossae, one of the thermal hotels just a few minutes from Hierapolis. The rooms are comfortable, although this is the first hotel in which we have encountered huge tourist groups. Unfortunately the internet was down in the hotel, so I was not able to post this until our next night in Izmir.