The lost, ancient city of Hierapolis was full with thousands of bustling tourists arriving by the coach load every second from all over Turkey. Hierapolis was believed by the Ancient Greeks to have been founded by Zeus’s son, Apollo – who had a temple dedicated to him within the city itself.
We passed the gleaming white travertine terraces of Pamukkale on the way up the hill to the crumbling cathedral. The travertines are made when hot water from the springs loses carbon dioxide as it flows down the slopes along the cliff, leaving deposits of limestone behind and forming gorgeous, turquoise pools of clear water against the mountainside.
Pamukkale overlooks the barren plains of Curuksu in Turkey, its calcite-laden thermal springs creating a series of spectacular waterfalls and dazzling-bright terraced basins. Now that I had seen the layers of white limestone for myself, I could see why they gave Pamukkale the name “Cotton Castle” which had an awe inspiring view.
Phoenix looked down at her map and shielded her eyes from the sun in the wide open, clear sky. She pointed up, “The church is at the top of that hill.”
“Is that where the portal is?” Eztil asked, leaning over her shoulder to get a glimpse of the map for himself.
“No,” Phoenix folded up the map carefully and shoved it into the back pocket of her denim shorts, “That’s just where we need to go so we can get a clear view of the whole area.” She adjusted her backpack and began to climb the hill.
As we trekked higher the crowds thinned out and soon a heavy silence settled upon the four of us disturbed only by the sound of our labored footsteps on the hard packed ground. It was a long walk, all of it without shade and I could already feel the heat pouring down on my neck and my skin prickled with the threatening sunburn.
There was a steady but steep incline up the hillside, littered with dead trees and tufts of crispy grass crunched beneath my feet. My mouth was dry and my lips had already begun to crack with the possibility of dehydration. I unscrewed the lid from my water which tasted warm and flat on my tongue, leaving a coppery taste behind.
A couple of dust devils rolled over the desolate landscape, pushed on by only a sight breeze that I couldn’t feel on my sweat-covered skin. The air was getting dryer the higher we hiked and felt raw in my throat as I strained to breathe it in.
We stopped. I sank to the chalky ground, my knees weak. I felt sick from the long ascent and the immense heat. I unzipped my bag lazily, my muscles weak, and found my spare bottle of water. I poured the contents over my head to cool myself down and wash the unwanted dust from my face and hair.
“This is it,” Phoenix declared breathlessly, pushing her fringe back off her forehead and out of her eyes. She went over to the edge of the cliff and stared down at Hierapolis, unfolding the crinkled map from her pocket and studying it closely. “There are ruins down there that haven’t been drawn out on this, look.” She pointed to a section of the map that showed an empty space of land, she then pointed to the same section from the page down on the desert land below.
She was right, there was a building stood there when there should have been nothing.
I shook my head, trying to clear my dazed mind, “Why wouldn’t they include that building in the tour?”
“Maybe they haven’t excavated it fully yet?” Alexander suggested, flapping his shirt against himself to try and cool down.
Eztil eyed the building carefully, “Maybe it is off limits?”
“Why would it be off limits?” Phoenix questioned, her eyes narrowing, “Unless it was dangerous.”
“I have read somewhere,” Eztil took a sip of water, “That in a Plutonium ruin there was a sacred cave. The cave emitted a poisonous gas and all who entered it died. The Ancient Greeks believed it to be the domain of Hades.”
I raised my eyebrow, ignoring a bead of sweat rolling down my cheek, “You’re saying this cave is a gate to the Underworld?”
“Or...” Phoenix answered for him, the cogs in her brain whirring, “The location of an infernal portal.”
“It’s worth a try,” I admitted, wiping the sweat from my brow.
Alexander was the first to stand, stepping out from the shade of a collapsing arch of the cathedral on the hill. “Let’s get back down there then.”
“It’s behind the Temple Of Apollo,” Phoenix put the map away again, “Come on, let’s go open a portal.”
Zeus was in one of the more difficult times of his rule. It was within the second half of the year and Hades had taken Zeus’ beautiful daughter, Pesephone, to the Underworld to be his queen for six months. Zeus’ wife, Demeter was being tormented with the loss of her daughter and was refusing to carry out her duties at the Goddess of nature for another year running.
Zeus begged for Demeter to bring life to his earthly domain but every time he tried to speak to her she cried and the world began to perish more rapidly. Trees were dying, rivers were drying up and all the animals were dying. Zeus felt as if he was losing his wife and in his fear had an affair with a Titan goddess named Leto who became pregnant.
Demeter found out about Zeus’ sin against her and ordered for a gigantic serpent named Python to pursue and torment Leto, never being allowed a moment’s rest throughout her pregnancy. Leto managed to find a safe and secluded spot to give birth just as she went into labor, giving birth to twins. Artemis, a girl, and Apollo, a boy.
Zeus, behind the back of his wife, welcomed the two twins by giving them both silver bows and arrows. He promised Artemis she would never have to marry unless she wanted to and gifted Apollo with a magnificent, golden chariot that was pulled by six beautiful swans. According to Greek mythology one of Apollo’s tasks was to harness this chariot and have the swans pull the sun across the sky, creating day and night.
What happened to Python? After Leto gave birth, the serpent was no longer needed and went to Mount Parnassus in the center of Greece to live. Python was known throughout all of Greece to spread mischief and death, along with an obnoxious smell. Apollo, at the age of four days, was already a strong boy as he was the son of a God. He wanted revenge on Python for making nine months of his mother’s life a living hell.
Apollo traveled to Python’s cave in Mount Parnassus to face the creature in battle. Python spotted Apollo and began to boil with rage, knowing who the boy was. The serpent lunged at the child to devour him whole, but Apollo was faster and managed to shoot one of his silver arrows through the snake’s forehead. Python screamed so loud it could be heard for miles and all through the canyons of Mount Parnassus, the serpent struggled to survive but in the end surrendered. Apollo had killed the evil snake.
As Apollo grew from a teenager into adulthood he seduced many young Goddesses and even more mortal women. Yet, Apollo never married. One maiden that caught the eye of the God was Cassandra, in the hopes of getting her into his bed Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy.
Cassandra was an able student and in time learned how to see into the future and always told the truth, much like Apollo himself. When Apollo turned amorous, ready to be returned for his favor, Cassandra rejected him. This anger the young God and he put a curse upon Cassandra. This curse was a cruel one, even though Cassandra always told the truth no one would ever believe her. It sent her mad.
Young Apollo had many lovers, both male and female. The most well-known throughout Greek mythology being Hyacinthus. Hyacinthus was a beautiful youth that Apollo was passionately fond of. Apollo accompanied Hyacinthus to his sporting matches, Apollo carried the nets whilst Hycainthus went fishing, Apollo led the dogs for Hyacinthus when the boy went hunting.
One day, the pair were playing discus. The Gods, unhappy that Apollo was making love with another man, were jealous. Apollo heaved the discus with his strength and skill, sending it high into the air. Hyacinthus was excited and ran after it unaware that the Gods above had changed the wind. The wind blew the discus off course causing it to strike Hyacinthus in the head and kill on the spot. To express his sorrow, Apollo immortalized the dying youth by turning him into a beautiful hyacinth, the flower that greets every Greek in the springtime.
This event turned Apollo sour and he became vindictive. One day whilst practicing his archery with Artemis, another skilled archer, Niobe (daughter of Tantalus) boasted to the siblings that she was a better mother than Leto. Niobe bragged that since she had given birth to six sons and six daughters she must be a better woman than Leto, who had only given birth to a measly set of twins.
Apollo and Artemis took great offence to this. As punishment for Niobe’s pride, the twins took their bows and arrows on the hunt to find her children. Apollo killed all of her sons and Artemis killed all of her daughters. Niobe’s grief was so great that her tears flooded the land, causing all the rivers to overflow their banks.
Hyacinthus’ death still haunted Apollo for many years, and he became more bitter over the passing of time. When Artemis fell deeply in love with Orion, Apollo got very jealous as he missed his sister’s company and her affection. Apollo was getting sick of Artemis spending all of her time with Orion, he was all she ever talked about and Apollo hated it.
In the middle of summer in Greece, Orion was swimming out in the ocean after the day’s hunt – Apollo saw this and rushed to get his sister. He said he had thought of a game the two of them could play together that afternoon and told Artemis to bring her bow and arrows. The twins ran back to the beach and Apollo announced they were to have a competition.
Apollo pointed out at the horizon and to an object in the waves, he bet his sister a lot of money that she couldn’t hit it with one of her arrows. Artemis laughed at her brother, she knew she was the better archer and accepted the wager. Little did she know that the object in the sea was the head of Orion, she drew back her arrow and with her unerring aim she killed the man she loved.
Artemis never loved or spoke to her brother again.
To get Apollo back, Artemis stole his silver bow and arrows. She cleverly hid them deep within the forest and left them there. For years and years Apollo searched for his weapons to no avail. No matter where he looked, Apollo could not find the bow or arrows his father had given him. Until, he stumbled upon a young Cupid playing with a silver bow and silver arrows. Apollo shouted at the Cupid, insisting that they were his weapons and that the Cupid should put them down as they were not toys.
The Cupid laughed and told Apollo he could have his bow and arrows but at a price. Apollo had to agree to be shot in the chest with one of the Cupid’s golden arrows. Apollo, desperate to be reunited with his lost weapons he cherished so dearly, agreed. What Apollo didn’t know was an arrow shot from the bow of a Cupid would make the victim fall madly in love with the first person they laid their eyes on.
Apollo was shot by the Cupid and then given his silver weapons back. It didn’t hurt as much as the God thought it would. The Cupid flew away, cackling wickedly, and saw the lovely and beautiful daughter of Ladon (the river God), Daphne the nymph walking by. The Cupid saw that Apollo was instantly smitten and, still offended by Apollo treating him like a child, the Cupid took a lead arrow from his sheath. This was a special arrow which would make its target think that love was repulsive. The Cupid took aim at Daphne and shot her in the heart.
Pursued by a love-struck Apollo, Daphne ran home and begged her father to swear an oath that she would never have to marry, as the very idea of love repulsed her to her very core. Her father refused. Apollo, his heart inflamed with nothing but love, chased Daphne for hundreds of years, constantly calling out pledges of his undying love for her – which made her sick to her stomach, when would she be free of this torture? Daphne continued to run from Apollo.
Apollo finally caught up with Daphne and she was horrified and scared, she cried for Demeter’s help to strike her dead where she stood so Apollo could not torment her anymore. Demeter, seizing yet another opportunity to punish Zeus for his affair, heard Daphne’s pleas and helped the nymph. A heavy numbness seized Daphne’s limbs and she watched peacefully as thin bark closed over her chest. She ran her finger through her long hair as it transformed into leaves and her arms into branches. Her feet were stuck to the ground, once so swift in her evade were now slow-growing roots bolted to the ground. Demeter had turned her into a laurel tree right before Apollo’s eyes.
Apollo was heartbroken. He tore off a branch of leaves from the laurel tree and wove them into his hair, promising Daphne that she would forever be remembered. Thus, is the story of Apollo.
We began the decline of the small mountain back towards Hierapolis and Apollo’s temple. The harsh sunlight, beating down relentlessly, created a forbidding haze around me and clouded my vision so I could no longer make out the bleak mountains far off in the distance. I ran my tongue over my gums in attempt to bring some moisture to my mouth but found nothing but gritty sand and dust in my teeth. My legs were growing numb with the walking and clambering over crumbling stones, I could feel at least four blisters rubbing against my boots.
The lower we got, the more people I had to avoid. There were too many tourists stood in my path with cameras taking photographs of the cathedral from the bottom of the hill. Some kids were running round squealing, treating the sacred site like a playground, which annoyed me. As we ventured down passed Pamukkale once more there was a gaggle of over-perfumed women in their bathing suits gossiping to one another instead of taking in the view.
I dodged this way and that way as I angled through the crowd to get to a vacant area on the other side, accidentally brushing up against strangers and having to mumble apologies to them. Phoenix strode onward, leaving the bubble of conversation far behind us as we got closer to Apollo’s temple.
I could see thick heat waves shimmering off the desolate wasteland and dry creek beds below me, the mud inside was crackled and fractured. I trudged across the cracked landscape, through dead grass as I followed the tracks through the wind-worn rock formations and stunted bushes. I avoided the big, black beetles that scuttled over the well-preserved stone path and swiped away at the layer of dust that had settled onto my arms. I felt incredibly faint and didn’t know how much longer my legs would hold me up for.
All that remained of the once glorious temple were the shabby foundations and the aged entry steps. A line of columns, some withered down to half height, on the one side and a wall that has decayed severely overtime was all that stood today. I walked along the uneven floor, imagining how glorious this temple must have been all those years ago. Imposing columns all around the edge, linked together by perfect archways and a curved ceiling inlaid with gold. Where there was once smooth marble now portrayed cracks and pioneering weeds.
“Over here,” Phoenix hissed, ducking down through a small, eroded gap in one of the walls.
I shuffled over to it, unintentionally kicking up loose gravel with my feet. I squeezed myself through the gap, the stone catching on the hem of the back of my shirt.
Alexander and Eztil, with some difficulty due to his humongous frame, followed.
There was a vapor by the cave as promised, low to the ground but so misty and dense it made it difficult to see what was beneath it. Dotted around the gas were dead animals, a handful of sparrows and a couple of deformed rats.
“Shouldn’t we hold our breath?” Alexander pointed out, “Considering the cave emits poisonous gas and all.”
Phoenix shook her head, running her hand against the rough stone of the cave’s entrance, “That’s just a rumor. It’s what the staff of this place have said so they have a reason to seal this section off.”
“I hope you’re right.” Alexander chimed, “It would be pretty anticlimactic if we all were killed off my intoxicating fumes.”
“Didn’t you see back there?” Phoenix retorted, “The inscriptions on the pillars? They were dedications to Hades.”
Alexander coughed to remove some of the dry dust in his throat, “I think you’re forgetting that not everyone here can read Ancient Greek ’Nix.”
“Shall we get on with it?” Eztil butted in, sweat trickling down the bridge of his nose, “It is too hot here for this.”
“This is the last portal we need to link to the other before the last one in Greece,” Phoenix said, blinking off the dust that had settled on her eyelashes. “You ready?”
The three of us sat back, giving me a chalky taste in my mouth because we stirred-up dust as we parked our behinds in the gravel. We waited and watched as Phoenix summoned the demon once again.