Whether the Slayers of ancient times knew about it or not (Editor’s Note: Yes, we know Buffy is fictional. No, we don’t particularly care.), the ruins from Turkey are known as Pluto’s Gate or “Plutonium” in Latin, and during its time it appears that a cave among the ruins was known in Greco-Roman tradition & mythology as a portal to the underworld.
The cave ruins are located in an ancient Phrygian city called Hierapolis, and the ancient geographer Strabo described the site as being “full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death.”
Writing sometime between 7-18 AD, Strabo says he conducted an experiment at this site during ancient times: “I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”
And now we know exactly where that hellmouth is!
The location was announced at an Italian archaeology conference in March 2013, with the find made by a team from the University of Salento. Lead archaeologist Francesco D’Andria says the team “found the Plutonium by reconstructing the route of a thermal spring.” During the excavation, they observed the death of several birds who died as they tried to get close to the opening’s warmth… and were immediately killed by the lethal carbon dioxide fumes.
Once excavated, the team found Ionic columns with a dedication inscription to two well-known underworld deities, Pluto and Kore—or perhaps better known by their Greek names, Hades and Persephone. The team also found temple remains, steps, and a pool that matched the ancient source material descriptions.
D’Andria mentioned that small birds were given to pilgrims at the cave opening so that they could test the deadliness at its mouth, providing a sort of ancient tourist attraction… and of course, there were priests at the location too. In this case, they did a lot of bull sacrificing to Pluto. While hallucinated, of course (would you expect anything less?)—the priests would drag the animals into the cave, wait for them to die, and then drag them out.
It’s thought that the groundwater pool at Hierapolis gave off fumes that caused a hallucinogenic effect similar to that at Delphi, which was another incentive for pilgrims to visit—they could see visions of their futures and receive prophecies by sleeping between the cave mouth and the water.
The site was a popular destination until sometime in the 4th-century AD, and infrequently afterward until its destruction in the 6th-century… was a Slayer responsible for closing this particular hellmouth, too? That’s for you to decide…