By Cole Hill ( | First Posted: Apr 02, 2013 10:38 AM EDT

Pluto was one of the rulers of the underworld in Greek mythology. (Photo : Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Beneath the fallen Ionic columns, under a haze of hallucinatory mist and rubble, a portal to the underworld beckons. Archaeologists believe they've uncovered an ancient Gate to Hell, and somehow, it isn't in America. The Greek god Pluto's mythical doorway to Hades was discovered recently in Turkey. 

(See a digital recreation of Pluto's "Gate of Hell" here)

Found in the old Phrygian city of Hierapolis, now Pamukkale, in southwestern Turkey, researchers said they were convinced of their discovery the more they dug, continually finding artifacts that matched up with the descriptions of the infamous entrance to Erebus made by Greeks thousands of years ago who wrote of "Plutonion."

"We found the Plutonium by reconstructing the route of a thermal spring. Indeed, Pamukkale' springs, which produce the famous white travertine terraces, originate from this cave," team leader Francesco D'Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento, told Discovery News.

Crews found an abundance of ruins at the Hellenistic site that was once a prosperous center of commerce in the region, replete with temples, a theater, and hot springs that were used for their healing powers. Chief among the finds though - D'Andria is quick to point out - is the mythical Gate of Hell ancient Greeks used as a similar spiritual tourist destination to seeing the Oracles at Delphi. Here, people would travel from across the known world to meet with the gods of the underworld, Pluto and Kore, something D'Andria said inscriptions found on columns around the site, as well as the ruins of a temple, a pool, and a "series of steps placed above the cave" prove. 

"People could watch the sacred rites from these steps, but they could not get to the area near the opening. Only the priests could stand in front of the portal," D'Andria said.

These priests were often under the influence of psychedelic chemicals, hallucinating as they guided visitors on revelatory inward quests, and sacrificing bulls to Pluto. Priests would enter the cave with small birds and often other larger animals, and then later drag them back out dead.

"We could see the cave's lethal properties during the excavation. Several birds died as they tried to get close to the warm opening, instantly killed by the carbon dioxide fumes," D'Andria said.

D'Andria said the ruins showed Plutonian was used for the "rites of incubation" for spiritual tourists, a practice where people would sleep near the entrance to the cave, and swim in the pool near the temple while hoping for divine revelations or visions to appear, and indeed, scientists now know that gas rising from the bottom of Hierapoli's phreatic groundwater  was capable of producing hallucinations.

Hierapoli lasted as a popular spiritual destination until around 400 A.D., and was used intermittently the next two centuries. The city was "an important pilgrimage destination for the last pagan intellectuals of the Late Antiquity," said Alister Filippini, a researcher in Roman history at the Universities of Palermo, Italy, and Cologne, Germany. 

"This is an exceptional discovery as it confirms and clarifies the information we have from the ancient literary and historic sources," Filippini added.

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