One part natural wonder, one part thermal bath, one part ancient roman ruins that’s the recipe for Hierapolis and Pamukkale. Built in an area of significant thermal activity, I can only imagine what ancient people’s thought when they arrived at the site. Huge fields of cotton looking calcium deposits formed by mineral rich thermal water, Pamukkale is an impressive natural wonder even today. Like something out of ancient mythology, the pools look like hot springs in a cloud from the ruins of Heirapolis situated above. It’s not hard to imagine the pantheon of Roman Gods soaking in the pools. The ruins themselves are still actively being excavated and unlike Ephesus they have hardly been rebuilt. If Disney created an Ancient Roman water theme park, this is what it would look like.
Although you’re no longer allowed to swim in the actual calcium pools, they’ve done a really good job creating artificial thermal pools on site which give you the feeling of swimming in a cloud. Shallow and warm from the thermal spring water that flows down the hillside, the pools themselves are sort of surreal. Or maybe that was just the itsy, bitsy florescent speedo bathing suits being worn by a ridiculous number of former USSR citizens. Ahem. Like I said, thankfully the water was cloudy and the formations are bright white- harshly reflecting the sun.
Thankfully there were fewer fluorescent man bikini’s in the antique pool. Having damed the thermal spring at Hierapolis at its source atop the mountain, in the middle of the ruins,the ministry of tourism has created a surreal little ancient feeling swimming pool. See I told you it was like Disney. Complete with pieces of fallen columns and buildings, bushes overflowing with fragrant flowers and lined with palm trees the pool felt like a secret oasis of the roman empire. The pool itself was warm (about 90ºF) and fizzy, due to the high mineral content. After an hour and a half of lounging on the columns, swimming over the ruins feeling like roman royalty we got out. Ok actually, they were closing otherwise I could have spent more time pretending to be Esther Williams bathing in hot seltzer water.
The ruins themselves aren’t as impressive as Ephesus mainly because they haven’t been restored and are still actively being excavated. Using your imagination at this site is easy, you already feel like you’re in an ancient castle in the clouds. Although most of the site is in ruins, the theater however is rather intact. It is absolutely magnificent and well worth the steep hike up. Much of the decoration remains in good condition, including architectural designs in the choral area and statues on the stage. Between this theater and the library of Ephesus it’s clear there was a lot of money coming through Asia Minor to Rome.
If you go: Most tourists come only on a day trip, but we spent a very pleasant night in Pamukkale village. The archaeological site is open all night as are the artificial pools of Pamukkale, but the ancient pool closes in the evening. Like other sites in Turkey the entrance fees are steep and the ancient pool is additional. Sunset from the artificial pools at the top was magnificent and we highly recommend sticking around or not heading up to the site until the evening. Bring sunglasses as the glare from the white calcium formations is harsh. Unless you are a huge history buff you don’t need a guide for Heirapolis, the site is enjoyable on its own. Buses connect Pamukkale to all nearby sites (Feithye, Selcuk, Bodrum, etc) with almost hourly service.