Turkey’s rich history, culture, and natural beauty make it an enticing destination for all types of travelers. While most people tend to focus their attention on Istanbul to take in sites like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar, or possibly plan a trip to Cappadocia to observe the magical fairy chimneys from a hot air balloon, there are countless destinations scattered throughout this fascinating country to explore.
Turkey’s thousands of miles of coastline dotted with numerous ports have made touring the country by way of cruise ship an easy and affordable option. Thanks to great Europe cruise deals, you can visit cruise ship ports located in some of the incredible seaside cities such as Kuşadası, Izmir, Marmaris, Bodrum, and Antalya.
Many of these seaside towns offer a wide range of attractions for travelers such as the Ephesus ruins near Kuşadası or arranging a day trip excursion to places like Pamukkale and Hierapolis.
Let us dive into Pamukkale and Hierapolis in greater detail since it’s a stunning landscape of white travertine terraces and mineral springs referred to by many as the “cotton castle”. Pamukkale, together with the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis have been recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and are located near the town of Denizli which is easily accessible to travelers.
The Lure of Pamukkale: Experiencing Turkey’s Natural Thermal Springs
Where exactly is Pamukkale & Hierapolis?
Pamukkale is nestled conveniently in southwest Turkey in the hills of the Denizli Province. The site of Pamukkale is easily accessible from Denizli, which is a major city in the region and has transportation links that include airports and bus services.
Pamukkale has become a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from around the world who come to witness its stunning terraces and thermal springs. Hierapolis is a significant archaeological site, known for its well-preserved ruins that include ancient theaters, temples, baths, and a necropolis filled with beautifully decorated tombs.
The ruins of Hierapolis are situated just above the travertine terraces of Pamukkale, making it convenient to explore both places during a single visit.
Why Visit Pamukkale?
I am definitely not alone when I recommend visiting Pamukkale and it is by no means a hidden secret. Just this year, well over a million travelers have already made their way to the magical site.
This natural wonder was formed by thermal springs that have been flowing down the slopes of the Denizli Plateau for thousands of years. The white terraces and travertine terraces have been created by the deposits of calcium-rich waters which have solidified over time, creating stunning terraced pools and cascades.
The unique landscape of this UNESCO-listed site World Heritage Site allows you to take in one of Turkey’s most fascinating natural attractions and take advantage of the therapeutic thermal waters found here.
Visitors can walk barefoot on the terraces and bathe in the warm, mineral-rich waters, which are believed to have healing properties for various ailments such as certain skin conditions and respiratory problems. However, to protect the fragile terraces, access to some of the pools is restricted and visitors are directed to specific areas if they wish to swim.
Pamukkale was a popular spa destination since Roman times and it is said that the famous Egyptian queen Cleopatra used to bathe in these healing pools herself. There is actually a pool you can swim in that has been named after her. The Cleopatra Pool is not actually one of the natural travertine pools, rather it was a man-made pool that was gifted to Cleopatra from her spouse Marc Antony.
More About the Pools
To protect this natural wonder and preserve its beauty, swimming in the terraced pools is regulated. Visitors can enjoy bathing in select natural rock travertine pools where deposits grew up on the steep slopes similar to how stalactites are formed within caves.
To access these pools, there are two different entrances to choose from and upon entering you will be required to remove your shoes and go barefoot so as to prevent or limit the amount of damage caused to the fragile site. A series of pools are kept open to the public thanks to water management. Other pools have dried up thanks in part to climate change and population growth.
In addition to the public travertine pools, there is also the opportunity to pay extra to swim in Cleopatra’s Pool which we mentioned earlier. There are other specific pools and facilities in the Pamukkale Hierapolis Archaeological Site where you can bathe in the year-round warm mineral-rich waters that have been channeled into man-made pools for this purpose. These pools are part of the Pamukkale Thermal Baths, which offer a more controlled and sustainable way to experience the healing properties of the thermal waters.
While the healing properties of the travertine pools are the mega draw, the surroundings of Pamukkale are home to some fascinating ruins and historical sites, the Greek city of Hierapolis being one of them.
You can also get a unique perspective of both Pamukkale and Hierapolis by getting up early for sunrise and taking to the skies in a hot air balloon to float over the travertine pools and ancient city.
The Ruins of Hierapolis
While one can visit Pamukkale without stopping to see Hierapolis, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not taking time to explore the nearby ruins. Hierapolis was an ancient Greco-Roman city located just above the Pamukkale terraces. It was founded around the 2nd century BC and has a rich history spanning various civilizations, including the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods.
The city was famous for its thermal springs, which were considered sacred and believed to have healing properties, many people coming here before death which explains the necropolis found here.
Hierapolis was also known for its grand architecture, including well-preserved ruins of baths, temples, theaters, and a necropolis with elaborately decorated tombs. One of the most impressive structures is the Hierapolis Theater, which could accommodate around 15,000 spectators and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
The city was an important early Christian center, and St. Philip the Apostle is believed to have been martyred here. Today, you can explore the ancient ruins and archaeological sites within Hierapolis and gain insight into the city’s past while also enjoying panoramic views of Pamukkale below
As an added bonus, visitors to Hierapolis can now also pay a visit to Hell’s Gate if you’re brave enough and into dark tourism. Beneath Hierapolis is a fissure that emits volcanic carbon dioxide straight from the underworld. The Greeks believed that the toxic gases that were emitted here were that of the breath of Hades who was King of the Underworld and leader of the dead.
Hell’s Gate from which Hades was said to pass through as he travelled to and from the underworld was only recently fully explored in the past decade and only opened to the public within the last couple years. There were concerns that it may be unsafe for visitors to venture too close since birds have been known to die when flying too close.
While you cannot venture into the Gates of Hell, you can get near them by making your way through the sprawling ruins of the ancient city as you look out for the statue of Hades and his three-headed dog Cerberus which guards the Gate. You can enjoy a glimpse into the underworld thanks to a walkway that has been created which keeps you at a safe enough distance away so you do not end up meeting Hades yourself.
So, whether you are in for a bit of beauty and healing relaxation, intrigued by history, or want to tempt fate with a bit of dark tourism and visit Hell’s Gate, Pamukkale and Hierapolis can deliver. Collectively, they are but just one of many captivating destinations to be experienced in Turkey.
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