Hierapolis and Pamukkale: Old Stuff and a Swim
The city of Hierapolis goes back to the 4th century B.C., and some researchers think it could even be older than that. It was a Hellenic city-state and even mentioned in the Bible, although just one time. From ancient times, the city was known as a spa destination, due to the travertine pools and springs all over the place.
I like visiting because you can do a combo day, where you look at old stuff for a while and then you get rewarded for your touristic duties with a swim in a spring-fed pool! If you go in mid-summer, like we did, you start to think about the pools about an hour into wandering the ruins, because you’re covered in sweat and dust and have already gone through a ton of water.
When I visited in early May, we started at the Necropolis, the ancient cemetery. In June, we started at the eastern entrance, which leads you through an old city gate, to the theater, and around some churches, including the possible tomb of either St. Philip the Apostle or St. Philip the Evangelist – it’s not clear. No matter which gate you enter from, eventually you get to the middle of the park, which includes the Roman Forum and Cleopatra’s Pool, and the Temple of Apollo. Like so many other old cities, Hierapolis suffered several earthquakes and was eventually abandoned. Before that happened, it became a destination for large civilizations, including Pergamam and the Romans.
You can see the glaring white travertine hill from miles away as you’re coming into Pamukkale, which means Cotton Castle in Turkish. The stark white is a result of travertine and hot springs mixing for so many years. As the hot spring water travels down the hill, it leaves deposits of limestone, or calcium carbonate, which build into all these impressive terraces. The water that pools is rich in minerals – we saw lots of people giving themselves mud baths in the pools. I started to, but then realized that the mud was attracting bugs and quickly rinsed off.
The park manages which pools you can walk/bathe in by rotating filled and drained pools. The pools need to be drained occasionally so that the sun can re-bleach the limestone. It was really unclear where we could and couldn’t walk. The best way is to either go where there are other people, or just go wherever you want and wait for a guard to blow a whistle at you. You hear whistles all the time, either to tell people to get off of an area, or to take off their shoes, because they don’t want dirty rubber soles ruining the place.
Although the old site is really impressive, and the limestone terraces are beautiful, my favorite part of our stay in Pamukkale was our hotel, Aya Sunrise. It’s run by a Turkish/Japanese couple, and they had a beautiful baby that kept all the guest entertained. The whole extended family worked at the place, or hung out there, and everyone was helpful when we needed it or willing to chat. The host and I bonded over Macklemore’s Thrift Shop video – he had just cut his hair like the artist’s. Also, they have a spring-fed pool, which is perfect to cool off after a day of touring. And while you’re swimming, someone will show up with cold apple tea an an extra refresher.