Turkey is counting on dark tourism dollars after a famed archaeological site in the western province of Denizli, known as Hell’s Gate, opened to regular visitors for the first time on Monday.
Getting to "Hell," or rather its gate as the area beyond the gate is closed to visitors, is no easy feat as it is located among the sprawling ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis. If not for the signs, like a statue of the Greek underworld deity Hades and his three-headed dog Cerberus, guardians of the gates to hell in Greek mythology, one could quite easily get lost while looking for Hell’s Gate. Though the pristine travertines of Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) located a few kilometers away may be more tempting for those seeking to bask in the beauties of the world, the gate, fully explored in 2013, will likely have its fair share of visitors.
Its name is derived from a combination of mythology and the practical application of scientific facts. Eons ago, sacrificial animals were sent into the narrow entrance in the ground to die in honor of the deities. A 2013 study led by Italian professor Francesco D’Andria discovered that the high carbon dioxide levels emitted from the ground where the gate is located were the source of the animals' deaths. Indeed, the region was actually a combination of heaven and hell as the carbon dioxide emissions stem from the same thermal spring that gives Pamukkale's travertines their beautiful white color.
After the 2013 expedition, the area was closed for security reasons over the poisonous emissions which went unnoticed for centuries since the phenomenon was confined to the “gate” and largely forgotten. Further excavation work followed before the crumbling stones of the gate were restored and statues were erected on top of the terrace-like structure next to the gate. A walkway placed a safe distance from the gate allows visitors to peek through the ancient underworld for sinners.
There may be a special place in hell for others but for Muharrem Aldıbaş, a tour guide, Hell’s Gate itself is a special place. “I have long thought it would be opened for visits earlier. This place is an opportunity to draw more visitors to Pamukkale,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Tuesday. “It is believed in ancient times that Hades would spend half of the year on Earth and the rest in the underworld and would travel to the underworld through this gate. I think more people will hear this story and come here,” he added.
Hatice Şentürk, a visitor from the northwestern province of Bursa, said she was aware of the gate’s existence and decided to pay a visit after touring Pamukkale. “It is an awesome place and I am happy to be one of the first visitors here,” she said.