Pamukkale is a town in Denizli city of Turkey. The name comes from two Turkish words; “Pamuk” and “Kale” which means cotton and castle. So basically it means castle made of cotton. This is not an imaginary name after all. It is named after a unique natural phenomenon; the abundance of hot springs rich in calcite have been forming a great wall of cotton white lime stone throughout centuries while meandering down from 200 meters high cliffs towards a large plain.
Pamukkale is made up of mineral forests, waterfalls and a series of terraced basins. Geographically, such structures are called travertine. Pamukkale travertines are not the only point of interest in the area. There is a Hellenistic spa town of Hierapolis, founded by the Attalid kings of Pergamum at the end of the 2nd century B.C., a site of an ancient cult. These ancient ruins are as intriguing as the travertines, however, mostly underestimated by visitors.
Conquered by Rome in 133 B.C., Hierapolis flourished, reaching its peak of importance in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., having been destroyed by an earthquake in 60 A.D. and rebuilt. Remains of the Greco-Roman period include baths, temple ruins, a monumental arch, a nymphaeum, a necropolis and a theatre. Following the acceptance of Christianity by emperor Constantine and his establishment of Constantinople as the ‘new Rome’ in 330 A.D., the town was made a bishopric. As the place of St. Philip’s martyrdom in 80 A.D., Hierapolis with its several churches became an important religious center for the Eastern Roman Empire.
With such a unique combination of natural and man-made wonders, Pamukkale-Hierapolis has been made a Unesco World Heritage site. With over two million visitors annually, it is also Turkey’s single most visited attraction.
My journey started from Istanbul with an early flight leaving Sabiha Gokcen Airport at 6:25 am to Denizli’s Cardak Airport, the closest airport to Pamukkale.
There are frequent flights to Denizli from Istanbul. Pegasus and Anadolu Jet (subsidiary of Turkish Airlines) flights from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport and Turkish Airline leaves from Istanbul’s main Atatürk Airport.
Another means of traveling to Pamukkale is the luxury intercity buses of Turkey. However, this trip would take up to 9 hours with a few service stop visits. From Izmir, a couch is a better option since it’s only 228km away. Also direct flight from Izmir to Denizli is not available.
At Denizli’s Cardak Airport, there is a shuttle bus service that leaves the airport following any flight arrival which can take you to Pamukkale in less than an hour. There are many hotels, guest houses even hostels in Pamukkale. I preferred a modest accommodation with a good price deal. Venus Suite Hotel is a budget hotel run by a local family. It has comfortable clean rooms flat screen TV, balcony, a swimming pool and free buffet breakfast inclusive of the room price.
We arrived before the hotel takes new guests; a staff at the front desk was kind enough to allow us to check in early without additional charge. I preferred to start the tour immediately and left rest for later that night. We took advantage of the hotel’s free shuttle service going to the ancient city’s east entrance. The owner who was at the same time, the minibus driver was a humble man who likes to chat with his guests although his English is limited. For those who would choose to walk from the hotel to the ancient city’s east entrance, it only takes less than 20 minutes by foot.
The entrance is decorated with brightly colored flowers. Few small shops are available selling basic necessities together with local souvenirs. A fee of 10 USD will be collected before entry. Golf carts are in the vicinity to aid tourists who have challenge in prolonged walking.
The ancient ruins have an estimated 4.5km length that would roughly take an hour of walking to cover the whole area. It is advisable that you prepare for the tedious walk especially during summer. Stay hydrated, put on trainers and a sizable hat to protect you from the sun.
This is the map of Hierapolis (or what is left of it today). The main entrance is depicted as number 15 on the map. Today, it’s only the main buildings of the ancient city are left standing. The photo below is the first structure noticeable when you enter the city from the South Roman Gate. After few centuries, the old city walls still look strong.
According to the map, columns above belong to the Gymnasium of the city. Today only a few of them remained.
Divert from the concrete road and take the path curving to the right to reach one of the most significant structures of the city, the Theatre.
The structure of the Theatre is mostly complete and the importance of its presence to the locals are still felt around the city.
The most important monument, situated outside the north-west wall of the city, is the Martyrium of St. Philip. At the top of a monumental stairway, the octagonal layout of the building is remarkable because of its ingenious spatial organization. Radiating from the central octagon are chapels, polygonal halls and triangular rooms, which combine to culminate in a square structure encircled by rectangular cells bordered with porticoes.
The Culture Ministry of Turkey understands the value of this site. In the recent years, they have heavily invested in renovating the walking paths and restoration of the ruins (thanks to its status as one of the UNESCO Heritage Site).
The surrounding area of Hierapolis is well maintained with red roses planted to add beauty to its ancient presence.