Pamukkale is the site of the Travertines, and the famous white bodies of water on the side of the mountain are pretty breathtaking. I was both surprised by how much else is in the Hierapolis park where the Travertines are, and how little is in the town of Pamukkale. I had already booked two nights at the Bellamaritimo Hotel before I reached Pamukkale, so I decided to stay for these nights and relax the second day as there was little to do in town other than at Hierapolis. The park itself took around 5 hours to explore everything, including regular stops to sit down, breathe in and appreciate the history and view. There is a wonderful lake near the entrance which has the clearest turquoise water I have ever seen.
Attraction: Hierapolis Park: including the white Travertines
Getting there: Walk to the north east of Pamukkale town, the gate is on the south east of the lake.
Price: 25 TL in low season (I was told it is 35 TL in peak season)
To get here I took a flight from Istanbul as it was only 10 TL more than the 10 hour bus trip, even when booked two days prior, and took around 1 hour. The Denizli airport greeted me with -14 degrees C, which is the coldest weather I have ever been in. The trip from the Denizli airport to Pamukkale was very simple, with a bus scheduled for after my flight arrived. I saved 4 TL by not booking the bus in advanced, and rather bought the ticket on board for 26 TL. This required one change where the driver told the people going to Pamukkale to get off and get on to a mini bus. This mini bus took us to a travel agent first. Luckily they weren’t very pushy and when I told them I wanted to go to my hotel they gave me a map and drove me there. I was rather happy that I had pre-booked my accommodation as I feel that the travel agent may have been more demanding if I hadn’t. As far as booking anything through the travel agent, it was unnecessary to book a tour of Hierapolis as it is a short walk from the accommodation and there are plaques throughout the park explaining the history of the different ruins.
The park started with me taking my shoes off to walk on the Travertines, which is a requirement for the conservation efforts, due to the site being fragile and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was a -2 degree C day, so taking my shoes off wasn’t at the top of my list of things to do! It turned out to be the perfect day for walking up barefoot between steaming hot water on one side and ice covered pools on the other. I enjoyed shocking my feet by stepping in an icy cold puddle and then dipping my toes in the deliciously hot spring water. I assumed that swimming wouldn’t be an option due to the temperature, though I didn’t realise how warm the water would be. It turns out I could have swam in Cleopatra’s pool for an extra fee, which is a modernised spa dating from the Roman times and is fed by the mountain spring water.
There are a huge amount of ruins scattered throughout the park, most of which have had very little restoration. Although this means that there is little structure left of many of the ruins it was very nice to see an area which has not been restored like so many of the touristy temples around the world. The theatre was very nice, although it does cost extra to get in so I chose to stand on a rock and look through the fence, giving me a pretty good view of the place. My favourite ruin was the St Philip Matryrium which is a church built in the 5th Century and is where the apostle St Philip is believed to have been buried. The church is somewhat intact compared to the many other ruins in the park, with many of the walls partially standing. It was quite a large church in it’s day and attracted many pilgrims. The interior, where the dome would have been, represents the number 8 for infinity. The view is fantastic and I found it a great place to take a break and appreciate the view.
Other ruins include the Lotrino and the Northern Roman’s Gate, which stand beside each other. These are very nice for a walk through and are a very small glimpse in to what the town may have looked like. There is also a very old, possibly the oldest ever invented, olive oil press which has some remnants here. There was a great diagram showing and describing how it worked on the northern side of the gate. There were many tombs further to the north, all with descriptions of the symbols and structure on information panels. Overall I loved that I got here before too much restoration was completed. I have a feeling that over time much of these areas will be reconstructed to their original glory. I hope I get back here when they do as it will be amazing to see the comparison. These are the oldest ruins I have ever seen, with some dating back to the 1st century. I love that there are so many ruins of baths, especially at the edges of the city, where people were required to bathe before entering in order to reduce diseases spreading.
Bellamaritimo hotel was fantastic, made even better by being upgraded to a twin bed from a dorm bed. The breakfast was amazing, with a great spread of olives, bread, two types of cheese, natural yoghurt, cucumber, omelette, as well as Çayi (tea) of course. I learnt a lot about the area by talking to the manager, in particular about the water in the hot springs. Climatic changes in the area have resulted in the annual precipitation lowering, meaning that the water contains a lot of calcium carbonate and there is not enough to feed all of the Travertines at any one time. For this reason there is a rotation of the areas that have water fed to them, which is changed every 12-15 days. This has the effect of keeping the travertines white while protecting the water supply.
I explored the city of Pamukkale a little at night. There is what I would describe as a tourist street (although in winter there were very few tourists) which seemed to have some okay restaurants. Other than that I went for a wander and found a few pubs in the less touristy part of town. I was lucky enough to go for a drive to the red Travertines in Karahayit, which were a lot smaller than the one’s in Pamukkale, though they were very pretty due to the Iron oxide staining. It was really quite nice to relax in such a small town.
Cost (All in Turkish Lira and current at the time of posting)
Plane to Denizli – 79; Bus from airport to Pamukkale – 26; Accommodation (including breakfast) – 55/2 nights; Vegetarian dinner – 10; Entry to Hierapolis – 25; Train from Denizli to Selçuk