The stunning white calcium pools, which cling to the side of a ridge, have long been one of the most famous picture postcard views of Turkey. Pamukkale, literally meaning “cotton castle”, is also the site of the ancient city of Hierapolis of which there are many interesting ruins, and is a very popular destination for a short visit.
Pamukkale was formed when a spring with a high content of dissolved calcium bicarbonate cascaded over the edge of the cliff, which cooled and hardened leaving calcium deposits. This formed into natural pools, shelves and ridges, which tourists could plunge and splash in the warm water.
Hotels were springing up from the 1970s to cater for the large influx of tourists, and shortly afterwards UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. But by the 1990s, this took its toll on the state of the calcium pools and restrictions were placed on these travertine terraces. Many hotels were knocked down, visitors are only allowed on major paths around the sites, and must remove footwear to stand on the calcium deposits. This seems to have been a successful move, as the water supply is now used for preservation and some of the damaged calcium deposits have been strengthened.
The summers are hot and dry, and winters warm and rainy.
Where to Visit
Hierapolis Archeology Museum
The old Roman Baths, is one of the largest structures in Hierapolis, which has been the Archaeological Museum since 1984. Inside are exhibits from excavations of the area.
Opening hours: 08:00 – 19:00 (Summer); 08:00 – 17:00 (Winter). Closed Mondays.
The ancient city of Hierapolis, the original site of Pamukkale, was known as a Holy City in archaeological literature because of the abundance of temples and other religious structures in the area. Although there is limited information on the founding of the city, it is known that Eumenes II founded it and named it after Bergama’s mythical founder, Hiera, who was the wife of Telephos. It was an important centre during the Roman and Byzantine periods, and a centre of Christianity since the 4th century.
Main Street and Doors
The colonnaded main street, is 1km in length, divides the city into two sections from end to end. At both ends are monumental doors outside the Byzantine ramparts because huge sections of the doors were constructed during the Roman era. On the South Byzantine Door, dating back to 5 BC, is an epitaph dedicated to Emperor Dominatian. The North Byzantine Door dating back to the same period is at the junction between the road and the ramparts.
The city was encircled with walls around the north, east and south, in the 5th century BC. 24 square towers were added, but the majority of these have since collapsed. Of the four entrances, two are the monumental doors and other others are small.
Great Turkish Bath Complex
Now part of the Pamukkale Museum and south of the Thermals Baths, the layout of the Roman Baths is typical of the era: A wide courtyard is at the entrance, through which is a rectangular area with large halls on both sides. There is evidence suggesting that the interior’s huge walls were covered with marble. At the north and south of the main complex are two main halls essentially used for the private use of the Emperor, and for ceremonies. The remains of the baths date back to 2nd century BC, and the area is now covered with marble and a large section is part of the Pamukkale Museum.
Near the Museum are the foundations of the Temple, constructed on the Plutonium spring and dedicated to Pluto, the god of the underworld. It still gives off deadly poisonous gases and in front of the temple, a grate has been installed over the underground entrance to the spring to prevent inquisitive visitors. It was the site of an ancient religious cave, where Apollo met the mother goddess of Cybele, and sources suggest that she descended into the cave without being affected by the toxic fumes. The upper parts of the Temple date back to the 3rd century, and is accessible through a wide staircase.
The restored Roman theatre dates back to the 2nd century and the stage buildings and elaborate reliefs are in exceptionally good condition. Construction began in 62 AD by Flavius two years after a large earthquake, and completed in 206 AD. It once had a capacity of around 12,000, and adorned with columns and statues which were unearthed during excavations. On the backstage walls are marble bas-reliefs. The theatre is still the venue for the annual International Pamukkale Song Festival in June, during which 7000 spectators can be seated.
There is a cathedral, a church with pillars, and two other churches in the city centre belonging to the 6th and 7th centuries, with smaller chapels at the northern end of the city.
The necropolis, in the northern end of the old centre, is the largest in Asia Minor and continues along both sides of the road for nearly 2km. Limestone and marble were both used during the construction of the graves, although marble was more common for the tombs. The northern necropolis includes characteristics of tombs, graves and monuments, which date back to early Christianity. The tombs that have architectural characteristics of houses are considered the most valuable parts of the necropolis.
Founded on the southern back of the Curuksu River, the site of ancient Laodiceia, or Laodikya, is 13km south of Pamukkale. According to ancient sources, the city was established by Antiochus in 261-263 BC, and named after his wife.
This was one of the most important and renowned cities of Anatolia in the first century BC, and the majority of works of art here belonged to this period.
The Romans put great importance to Laodikya and declared it as the centre of Cybria. The whole area contains the largest stadium in Asia Minor, a gymnasium and baths complex, and the foundations of an Ionic temple. The region contains one of the seven known churches of Asia Minor, which indicates the high esteem in which Christianity was placed. A destructive earthquake levelled the city in 60 AD.
Structures of Laodikeia
Constructed in typical Roman architectural style, the Grand Theatre is in the northern area of Laodikya. Although the stage has been completely destroyed, the areas for the orchestra and audience are in good condition, and has a capacity of around 20,000.
300m northwest of the Grand Theatre, this had a capacity of 15,000 and was constructed in Roman style. The stage has completely collapsed, and there is slight damage elsewhere to the interior.
Stadyum and Gymnasium
Built in 79AD, the stadium is measures 350m x 60m. Having the architectural properties of an amphitheatre, it has 24 rows of seating although significant parts of its have since been destroyed. According to an inscription unearthed during excavations, Proconsul Gargilius constructed the gymnasium in the 2nd century, as a dedication to Emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina.
Located on the main street, the Monumental Fountain is a Roman structure with two pools and carved shelves on the walls, and restored during the Byzantine period.
Temple of Zeus
Lying between the small theatre and the monumental fountain, the Temple of Zeus is located on the east of the colonnaded street.
It was constructed on the south of the columned street adjacent to it. Only some parts on which the temple was perched have still being erected.Main entrance is on the west part.
Karahayıt Thermal Spring
The waters of this spring, which is part of the Pamukkale system, is 5km south of Pamukkale and considered to be good for the heart, hypertension, rheumatism, sciatica, lumbago and skin diseases.
Pamukkale Thermal and Mineral Springs
The lime solution in the water, which comes from the travertine pools 18km from Pamukkale, has therapeutic qualities that have been acknowledged for centuries. Religious ceremonies and festivals have been performed around the source of the spring, and it was a popular destination for wealthy and powerful people who came to be cured of their ailments.
Don't Leave Without
Visiting the ancient cities of Hierapolis and Leotikeia,
Seeing the colours reflected in the travertine pools at sunrise and sunset,
Bathing in the warm, therapeutic pools,
Walking around the Yesildere waterfalls.