One of the most surreal places in the world is the Pamukkale Hot Springs and the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis. Located in southwestern Turkey, the thermal springs on the site have brought travelers to the area since ancient times. Conservation and preservation of Pamukkale and Hierapolis have intensified since a World Heritage Site designation in 1988.
Pamukkale has been famous as a destination, as a natural wonder for well over two millennium. The modern designation in Turkish means cotton castle.
The carbonate minerals in the thermal waters, is what has created this magical site. It is our 13th stop in the series Journeys to Discovery.
The calcite over time created an almost supernatural landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins. There is a variation of color to the formations, which adds to the beauty of the place.
As of 1997, to keep the travertine white and to prevent further damage, it is forbidden to walk over the formations at large. However, one can still walk on the south part of the springs barefoot.
Although overshadowed by the natural beauty of the springs and the resulting formations, Pamukkale also has well preserved Roman ruins ( the city of Hierapolis) and a noteworthy museum.
Hierapolis meaning Holy City is an archeological museum itself. In ancient times, the hot springs were used to create a spa. Credit for this is given to the dynasty of the Attalids, the kings of Pergamon.
Originally, the site was utilized by an ancient cult and would then later be used for scouring and drying wool.
The Hellenistic city was built on a grid pattern with the streets running parallel or perpendicular to the main thoroughfare, with the main street running north to south, to a cliff with the travertine terraces. It would eventually reach about 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) long and 44 feet (13.5 meters) wide. The avenue was bordered on both sides by an arcade.
Later in history, on both ends of the main street, a monumental gate flanked by square towers, would be built, with massive blocks of stone.
In 133 BCE when King Attlaus III died, he left his kingdom to Rome. Therefore, Hierapolis would now become part of the Roman province of Asia.
Since the second century BCE, countless patrons have sought out the healing waters. Many others would decide to retire there and make the area their new home.
Proof of the latter can be found in the large necropolis, filled with sarcophagi. One of the most famous remains, belong to the Roman, Marcus Aurelius Ammianos.
The great baths built in Hierapolis were constructed with mammoth stone blocks, without the use of cement. These consisted of various closed and open sections, linked collectively. The deep recesses in the most inner section, include a bath, gymnasium and library.
In Roman times, Hierapolis became a huge healing center, where physicians used the thermal springs as a therapy for their now countless patients.
The architectural remnants that can be viewed today, are those that were constructed after the massive earthquake in 60 CE, that left the previous city in ruins. The rebuilding would be restored in a true Roman style, with imperial government support.
During the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian, in 129 CE, the rather large theater would be built. It would be further renovated during the reign of Emperor Severus, who reigned from 193 to 211 CE.
When Emperor Caracalla visited the town in 215 CE, he conferred the much coveted title of special privilege known as neocoros, upon the community. This act would usher in the Golden Age of Hierapolis, as the city became one of the most prominent urban centers in the fields of the arts, philosophy and trade.
During these years new building projects were started, including two new Roman baths, a gymnasium, a number of temples, a main avenue with a colonnade and a fountain at the hot spring.
The population grew enormously during this period to around 100,000 inhabitants, as Hierapolis grew wealthier.
The last imperial visit by a Roman Emperor would take place during the reign of Valens, signaling the end of an era and the changing fortunes of the city.
As part of the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire, Hierapolis continued to flourish.
Various religions of the Classical Age were now being replaced by Christianity. Evidence of this, is provided with the filling up with stones, of Pluto’s Gate during the 4th century.
Pluto’s Gate was sanctuary that had been built in honor of the Roman god Pluto, known in the Greek world as Hades. It was located in a cave, that emitted toxic gases and was considered to represent a gateway to the underworld.
The famous Roman baths would now be transformed into a Christian basilica during this period and the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, would elevate the Bishop of Hierapolis to rank of metropolitan in 531 CE.
In the early 600’s Hierapolis would fall to invading Persian armies and would be struck by another devastating earthquake. It took generations for the town to fully recover from these two catastrophes.
As the Byzantine Empire shrank in size, Hierapolis had the misfortune of being close to the frontier, so it fell under attack and changed political hands, a number of times.
In the 12th century the region would fall under control of the Seljuk Sultanate of Konya. The Seljuks were a Turkish people with Persian influence.
As part of the Third Crusade, the town would then be recaptured by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and his Byzantine allies in 1190 CE.
About 30 years later, Hierapolis would then finally, be abandoned. The political instability of the area and constant warfare, had negated the advantages of the thermal springs.
Hierapolis would be hit with the Great Thracian Earthquake in 1354, which toppled the architectural remains of the ancient city. The ruins would then slowly be covered,with a thick layer of limestone.
The Seljuks would build a castle in the area in the 13th century, but it would then be abandoned, towards the end of the 14th century.
Modern excavations began in the late 19th century. Hierapolis became a dig site by the German archeologist Carl Humann, during the summer of 1887. He created a number of boring holes, but did not do any kind of extensive work.
In the 20th century, the formations as a result of the hot springs, became popular with travelers once again. It was then given its modern name of Pamukkale.
Hierapolis would be rediscovered, as well. Unfortunately, the construction of the more modern hotels, would damage the ancient and medieval ruins of the site.
These would later be removed, once the city and hot springs received international recognition and World Heritage Site designation.
Only one of the hotel pools remain, and for a fee, visitors are allowed to swim among the ancient stones and buildings.
Although the Hierapolis Archeology Museum would be established in 1970, during the second part of the 20th century, many friezes and statues unearthed, would still find their way to museums in Berlin, London and Rome.
The Archeological Museum would be moved to its present site, at the former Roman baths in 1984.
More extensive archeological work would be resumed by Italian scientists led by Paolo Verzone in 1957. Studies would continue into 2008, when it was decided that a more extensive restoration, would now commence.
These would include the large columns along the main street, near the gate named after Roman Emperor Domitian.
From the Byzantine period a number of houses would be found, during the excavations. An 11th century house with a courtyard, would also be unearthed.
Today, major points of interest include the Frontinus Gate, the North Byzantine Gate, the Theater, the Temple of Apollo, the Plutonium, the Nymphaeum, the Necropolis, the Martyrium, the Antique Pool, Cleopatra’s Pool,and the Baths.
The Museum comprises three major rooms and an outside area, that house the extensive collections. In addition to artifacts found at Hierapolis, objects from other archeological sites nearby, are also on display.
The facility has a large section devoted to items found at Beycesultan Huyuk, which includes some of the most beautiful examples of Bronze Age crafts, that can be found anywhere in the world.
The collection has artifacts that date back 4,000 years.
Address: 20280, Pamukkale/Denizli,Turkey
Phone: (+90) – 256 – 6131203 and (+90) – 256 -6127237
Fax: (+90) – 256 – 6127244
The closest airport is in Denizli. Cardak Airport is 1 hour away or 40 miles (65 kilometers). There are 6 flights daily to Istanbul.
Three trains run each day from Izmir to Denizli.
Adult rate is 35 Turkish Lira ($6.64 USD) United States Dollar, to view the Pamukkale Springs and the city of Hierapolis.
A trip to the Museum will cost an additional 5 Turkish lira ( $0.95 USD)
Days and Hours of Operations
The site is accessible 7 days a week, year round. There are varying hours of operation, for holiday schedules. The facilities are normally open by 8:00 am and closes at 9:00 pm.
The museum hours are from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm local time. Then again from 1:30 pm to 7:00 pm
It is closed on Mondays.
The Antique Pool Spa or Cleopatra’s Antique Pool is open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, with the last admittance at 6:15 pm.
It will be far more crowded during the summer months, when more people are on vacation.
- Is available in the nearby communities of Pamukkale and in Denizli, additional choices can be found in Izmir.
- It will be far more crowded during the summer months, when more people are on vacation. So if possible plan your trip, during the off season.
- One should bring sunblock ,sunglasses and a hat, during the summer months. It can become quite hot, at this time of the year. During the winter months a windbreaker will be quite helpful.
- Appropriate footwear will permit a more enjoyable trip.
- To fully enjoy the site, one will need to allocate at least an hour for the ruins of the city. The museum itself will take extra time, depending on your particular interest in the artifacts. The hot springs will take at least 30 minutes to walk up. Additional time will be needed, to fully appreciate the formations.
- There are a number of other archeological sites, to view in the area. These include Laodikeia (Laodicea), Colossae, Karahayit and the Kaklik Caves.
- The Pamukkale/Denizli area is famous for its cotton and home-wares. These can be purchased in the region, at reasonable prices.