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Pamukkale, 20km from Denizli , is one of the most interesting destinations in Turkey, not only for its beautiful and strange geological formations but also the historical ruins of Hierapolis (Holy City). The UNESCO World Heritage site has a landscape of white terraces and strange forms resembling flowers and shells created from the calcium oxide-rich waters flowing down the southern slopes of Çal Mountain, north of the ruins, which over the millennia has built up deposits of white travertine (hard chalk) on the plateau and from this gets its name, Pamukkale, literally meaning ‘Cotton Castle’ in Turkish. Dazzling white during midday and at sunset colours of pink, purple and ochre are reflected in the waters.  

Healing Springs of Pamukkale in History

The healing quality of the springs was known for thousands of years and long before the town was founded in the second century BC by one of the Pegamene kings.
Incorporated into the Roman Empire in 129 BC the therapeutic virtues of the waters were quickly exploited with the building of a health spa that was almost equal to what is there today. Being favoured by Imperial Emperors who visited there, arousing local emperor-worship along with Apollo and his mother Leto (Cybele) also revered there. The presence of a growing Jewish community helped the rapid and early establishment of Christianity with Hierapolis being mentioned in Paul’s Epistle to the Colossions, and Philip the Apostle is thought to have been martyred there along with his seven sons. Although paganism remained until well into the 6th century, a fanatical bishop destroyed the heart of this ancient worship by building over 100 churches, some of which are still visible today.

Protecting the Waters

Sliding into obscurity in late Byzantine times and after the Seljuk arrival in 1100, the city was abandoned and little interest shown until 1957 when Italians began excavations there. Hotels that once stood on the above terraces, and since been demolished, used to drain the waters into their heated pools and thus caused damage to the terraces further downstream. Currently the water flow to the existing hotels is strictly rotated to preserve the site and allow diminished deposits to regenerate.
At present there are access restrictions on the terraces and visitors are confined to the main pathways around the site and to use the small pools on the far southern side of the travertines.

Pamukkale Village

At the foot of the travertines is Pamukkale Village and has lots of small hotels, pansiyons, shops and restaurants with the quieter establishments situated on the outskirts of town. There are bus connections between Pamukkale Village and most of the other resorts including Kas, Marmaris, Kusadası and Fethiye, with services several times per day. The dolmus runs from Denizli and from there you would need to take a taxi or prearrange transfer with a hotel or pansiyon which is usually free.

Entrance Gates to Pamukkale

Hierapolis extensive ruins and travertines have two separate entrances via either the South or North Gates. Most visitors and tour buses enter through the North as from the South there is a long, hot shade less walk to the site, although it does have a large visitors centre and car park there. There are ticket booths at both gates and although the site is open 24 hours admission is only charged during the daylight hours. From the North Gate (also with a visitor’s centre) there are sections of traventine and thermal pools that visitors have to remove their shoes to walk through them. The calcium ridges can be quite sharp and make the walk a little uncomfortable.

Pamukkale Thermal Baths

Up on the plateau are the Pamukkale Thermal Baths housing ‘the sacred pool of the ancients’ and 35˚C thermal spring water rising up from the bottom, this is where you can properly bathe. It is recommended to arrive here early morning or late afternoon to avoid the large tour groups that descend around midday. Maps of the site and village can be obtained from the tourist office along with information about the museum that is housed in the restored 2nd century baths and behind the museum is a large 6th century basilica.

Historic Ruins to Visit in Pamukkale

Hierapolis Eastern Monuments

Here you will find a nymphaeum (fountain house), the Plutonium and Temple of Apollo. The Temple dates from 3rd century AD but is thought to have been built on 2nd century BC foundations. The Plutonium grotto, a site sacred to the god of the underworld is a part paved cavity where you can hear rushing water and a worrying hissing sound from the emission of toxic gas, possibly a mixture of carbon dioxide and sulphurous compounds, capable of killing humans and animals and has a metal cage installed to prevent entry after two German men dared to go inside and consequently died.

Roman Theatre

The 2nd century restored Roman Theatre is in exceptionally good shape and still includes most of the stage buildings and ornate reliefs. The 46 rows of seats with a capacity for 7000 spectators are still used in late June for performances by the International Pamukkale Song Festival. The 5th century AD Martyrion of St. Philip was built to honour the martyred apostle in 80 AD. With its many rectangular cells meeting the central octagonal chamber though not his tomb or even a church and was probably used for festivals on the Saint’s day.

Hierapolis Northern Monuments

Perhaps the most interesting part of the city is the colonnaded street once extending 1km, running parallel to the plateau’s edge and ending with huge portals just outside the city walls. Only the northern portal now exists, is triple arched, flanked by towers and built dedication to Emperor Domitian in 84 AD.

Tomb of Flavius Zeuxis and Necropolis

North of here are some 2nd century AD baths that were 200 years later converted into a basilica and nearby the ornate Tomb of Flavius Zeuxis, an important Hierapolitan merchant, and one of thousands of tombs that make up the necropolis, the largest in Asia Minor extending nearly 2km along the road.  

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