One of Turkey’s most famous landmarks, scattered across tourist brochures and posters, Pamukkale is a wonderfully surreal natural wonder that is a must-do attraction on your travels in Turkey. This pure white mountain, set in a series of semi-circular travertines, among green agricultural fields, makes for some bizarrely beautiful photographic opportunities. In a two-in-one deal lies the remains of the Roman spa town of Hierapolis, with its famous hot spring pool, where you can do as the Romans did and wash away your aches and pains.
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Pamukkale’s dazzling white calcite cliff was created by limescale from the area’s hot springs. In the same way that stalactites form in limestone caves, the deposits grow on the steep slopes and gradually fan out into natural terraces. Pamukkale means ‘cotton castle’ and the dazzling white color of these travertines looks like a bizarre natural fortress. The best way to sightsee here is to walk (barefoot only) from the base of the calcite mountain up the entire cliff. The terraces on the upper floors contain water basins that you can sit in.
Location: Enter the travertines at the foot of the mountain from the middle gate of Mehmet Akif Ersoy Bulvari
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Pamukkale
2 Hierapolis City Ruins
First founded by King Eumenes II of Pergamon shortly after 190 BCE, Hierapolis was originally a fortified military colony. The original city was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 60, and it was after the reconstruction that its glory days began. The city enjoyed its greatest prosperity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries when it became a major spa center with its natural hot springs on tap. The remains of a grand colonnaded street runs parallel to the travertines below for just over a kilometer, stretching between the necropolis to the north and a Byzantine church at the southern end. If you take the eastern path from the church, you will come to the Temple of Apolloand its famous Plutonium (a cave under the temple that was a source of poisonous gas). Here the priests would consult the oracle, during which birds and small animals were killed by the rising gas. Not much has survived today either. East of the remains of the Agora is the octagonal Martyrium of the Apostle Philip , built on the site where the saint and his children were supposedly martyred after protesting the pagan worshipers of Hierapolis.
Location: top of Pamukkale hill
3 Hierapolis Theatre
On a slope above the rest of the ruins of Hierapolis is the mighty theater, with its facade over 100 meters long and two rows of seats, each with 26 rows. Built during the reign of Roman emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus, the theater is incredibly well preserved. It retains much of its original detail, with the imperial boxes (where VIP guests would have watched the entertainment) and some decorative panels still preserved in the theatre. There are nice views from the top seats.
Location: top of Pamukkale hill
4 Ancient pool of Pamukkale
If you want to partake in some restorative hot pool baths just like the Romans did, but without the togas, then look no further. Antique Pool of Pamukkale (next to the Temple of Apollo ) you can soothe those weary travel muscles in mineral rich hot spring water which is a constant 36°C. It’s possibly the most atmospheric hot spring experience you’ll ever have, with half-submerged columns and chunks of fallen marble scattered on the water around you.
Location: top of Pamukkale hill
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5 Hieropolis Museum
This small but excellent museum dedicated to Hierapolis is located in the former city of the ancient Roman bath house . A visit here will bring the city to life. The exhibits showcase some of the wonderful artistic and cultural heritage of this once important city, showcasing a variety of finds from the site, including beautiful and intricate stone reliefs, sarcophagi and statuary. The museum also has a decent collection of statues from the nearby archaeological site of Aphrodisias .
6 Pamukkale Castle
Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) was originally just the name of this 11th or 12th century castle , which is located just off the road from Pamukkale to the city of Hierapolis plateau. Most tourists don’t bother coming here, so this is a great opportunity to get away from the tour bus crowds. If you pay a visit you will be rewarded with a beautiful view over the travertines of the castle ruins, which are well worth the detour. Sunset is the best time to come, as the changing light makes the travertine terraces glow.
Locatie: Off Mehmet Akif Ersoy Bulvari
Beautiful Laodikeia was once home to Cicero. This Roman trading center was a bustling city of industry, medicine and trade. When Christianity began to take over from the earlier pagan religions, a large population of Christians and Jews lived here. The ruins, while sparse, are very photogenic and there is an interesting mix of remains of the temples and theaters from the early Roman settlement to the later Christian early Byzantine era. It is a bit different from the normal Pamukkale route (which is usually only visiting the terraces and Hierapolis), so if you put this on your list of things to do, you’ll probably get the whole site to yourself.
Location: 12 kilometers south of Pamukkale
Modern research has transformed Aphrodisias from a place visited by few to one of the most important historical sites in Turkey. Chalcolithic finds here show that the area was settled in the 4th millennium BC and early bronze pottery finds also suggest that there was an Assyrian trading colony here during the Hittite period. However, the settlement’s golden age was in Hellenistic and Roman times, when the sanctuary became the center of the widespread Aphrodite cult, and the city also became famous for its schools of sculpture, medicine and philosophy. The Temple of Aphroditewas built in about 100 BC and still has 14 standing columns (two with architraves in place). In the 5th century, the Byzantines converted this pagan temple into a basilica with three aisles. To the north is the mammoth and well-preserved Stadion , which could hold 30,000 spectators. To the south of the temple, the bouleuterion , decorated with reliefs and statues, is the best preserved monument on the site.
Location: 97 kilometers southwest of Pamukkale
9 Caravanserais near Pamukkale
Caravanserais (roadhouses, also called hans) lie on the plains of the region around Pamukkale, a remnant from the time when this area was part of an important trade route to central Anatolia. On the road from Denizli to Dinar is the Akhan , a Seljuk caravanserai founded in 1253 by Emir Karasungur. It has a marble facade to the east, a covered galleried courtyard and a winter hall with three aisles. Near the city of Çardak , 55 kilometers east of Denizli, it is Çardakhanı . This Seljuk caravanserai has two massive towers and an inscription flanked by two lions above the portal. It was endowed in 1230 by the general Rasıdeddin Iyaz.
First excavated in the 1950s by Lloyd and Mellaart, the Beycesultan Tepesi archaeological site (10 kilometers south of the provincial town of Çivril) is an important prehistoric settlement. In the Stone Age alone, 21 layers have been found within 11 meters of sediment. Evidence of settlement here has been found up to the early Bronze Age (1250 BC) and again from 400 years later, up to the Byzantine era. In layer V (1900 BC) the remains of a palace have been found and traces of a sanctuary with sacrificial vessels, blood altar and figurines of the goddess Cybele have been found in the Bronze Age layers.
Location: 103 kilometers northeast of Pamukkale
11 Karahayıt Hot Springs
These scorching mineral-rich hot springs (temperatures of up to 55°C) bubble just five kilometers from the limestone rocks of Pamukkale . The presence of various oxides (including iron oxide) in the water has tinted the springs’ calcium carbonate with a variety of colors. Below the springs is a small swimming pool, where you can enjoy to the depths of your heart. This is a great place to soothe tired travel muscles and take a break for an hour or two.
Location: 5 kilometers west of Pamukkale
This is one for the avid amateur archaeologists. The scant remains of the once great Phrygian city of Colossae (also known as Kolossai) lie in the Lykos Valley, near the Lykos River, 20 kilometers east of Denizli. The great age was during the Hellenistic period. By the time the Romans took control of the region, it was increasingly overshadowed by the cities of Laodikeia and Hierapolis , and the city eventually lost its prominence. Nevertheless, the city’s name remained known because of Saint Paul’s letter to the Christian community here. There’s not much to see, but the views across the rolling fields to the mountains beyond are quite nice.
Location: 28 kilometers south of Pamukkale
The city of Saraykoy , on the western edge of the Hierapolis valley, is probably the ancient Karura (or Kyorara), which was on the border between Phrygia and Cara. It was known for the hot springs and Herophilian medical school. Herophilus was a 4th-century BC. Physician, considered the most important physician of antiquity after Hippocrates. If you have a car, it’s easy to include Sarayköy in a loop of the sights and attractions around Pamukkale – also taking in Laodikeia, Aphrodisias and Colossae on the same trip.
Location: 25 kilometers west of Pamukkale
Everyone passes through Denizli on their way to Pamukkale, but few stop here. This thoroughly modern city is the capital of the province and grew into a bustling center in the 14th century. The great medieval Arab traveler Ibn Battuta described the city as a commercial center with seven mosques, baths and bazaars, as well as a resident prince. Denizli was destroyed by earthquakes twice; once in the early 18th century and again in 1899. This has left the town without any buildings of historical interest. However, excellent restaurants and cafes are in the center, so it’s a good place to stop for a lunch break if you’re traveling.
Location: 17 kilometers south of Pamukkale
Where to Stay in Pamukkale for Sightseeing
We recommend these convenient hotels in Pamukkale with easy access to top natural and historical sites:
- Hal-Tur Hotel: 4-star hotel, great location, outdoor pool, helpful owner, air-conditioned rooms, free breakfast.
- Melrose House Hotel: mid-range pricing, great owners, small pool, free breakfast with homemade jams.
- Venus Hotel: two-star boutique hotel, nice pool, modern decor, well-appointed rooms, free shuttle to town.
- Bellamaritimo Hotel: budget family hotel, friendly service, bright rooms with private balconies, excellent free breakfast.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Pamukkale
- Tours: If you are short on time and want to visit Pamukkale from Izmir, the Pamukkale and Hierapolis Tour allows you to visit the travertines and ruins of Hierapolis on a day trip that includes lunch and the service of an English-speaking guide. Transport is by air-conditioned coach.
- Escape the Crowds: Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to visit. The site gets busy with tour buses between 10:30am and 3pm. If you stay overnight in Pamukkale, you can get there early or late and beat the crowds. It’s also a good idea to enter from the middle gate (at the bottom of the hill) rather than the gate at the top. Tour buses always come from the top and many tourists don’t bother to walk the full width of the terraces from the top.
- Explore the area: Hiring a car to explore the surrounding countryside and the scattering of ancient ruins is an excellent idea.