Oh how the photographs of white terraced pools plastered next to the name ‘Pamukkale’ look incredibly pristine and breathtaking. Yes, this is what Pamukkale used to look like back in the day. Now, for most of the year the pools are dried up, and long gone are the days of freely wading through the various natural pools. While you may be disappointed with the reality of Pamukkale today, there is still too many reasons to make a visit to the white cliff side paradise. From million dollar pool side views to rolling plains filled with ruins, a trip to Pamukkale is well worth the time and effort.
Visiting the White Terraces
Not as magnificent as they used to be, walking up the calcite encrusted pathway that makes its way to the top of the cliff is still an out of world experience. The stark white landscape contrasts brilliantly with the clear blue sky and dark green fields that eventually give way to snow topped peaks in the distance.
Sadly, most of the natural pools that make Pamukkale so famous are now all dried up for most of the year. Without the water reflecting the sky above, the terraces look rather dismal and dusty. Photographers will be disappointed with what they see but there are still plenty of photo opportunities overlooking the valley and from the artificial pools that line the pathway.
In order to protect the natural terraces, the government has constructed artificial pools along the pathway to allow visitors to wade in. Getting up here in the late afternoon when the sun soaks the cliff and surrounding area in an orange hue is the best time to relax in the pools (it is also the quietest time). Finding your own little spot and taking in the million dollar view in front of you is the best experience you can get while in Pamukkale.
Entrance tickets into the park costs 35 Lira and is a one entry ticket. Be sure to bring snacks and water if you plan to be here all day.
Ruins of Pamukkale
Away from the brightly clad groups of tourists mulling about the artificial pools lie rolling windswept grasslands covered in wildflowers and ruins of an ancient city that once occupied the area. Walking among the random pillars and half standing buildings of two thousand years past is a highlight to any visit to Pamukkale.
The pools of Pamukkale have been known for thousands of years, with the Romans and Byzantines constructing a city on top of the cliff known as Hierapolis. The area has been a health center since 190 BCE, which grew under the Romans and was at its height during the Byzantine empire.
People from all over would come to visit the healing waters of Pamukkale as well as pilgrims seeking to visit the tomb of St. Philip. At its height the city probably was home to some 120,000 people. The city was abandoned after an earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1334 CE.
You could easily spend one day alone relaxing and roaming around what is left of the ancient city. The best way to experience the ruins is to wander and make your own path. Here we will discuss the highlights in no particular order.
The most complete structure, which is visible from most places, is the Roman Theater which is very well preserved. Much of the stage and facade remain along with much of the seating. The theater had a capacity of 12,000.
Nestled on top of a small hill lies what remains of the church and tomb of St. Philip. According to legend Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, was martyred upon the very hill that the ruined church now stands today. Below the church, you can still see the very much intact tomb of the saint and the fountain where pilgrims would perform an ambulation ritual before visiting. The stone pathway leading pack down towards the terraces was the road pilgrims used to visit the site. While the site was once one of the busiest places in the Hieropolis, today it receives very few visitors making it a very peaceful and meditative hill to ponder about.
From the pilgrimage road, there is another ancient pathway that heads to the northern part of the city. Along the route are various ruins including the foundation of a Byzatine cathedral which are now overgrown with plant life. You will also be able to spot the Northern Byzantine Gate from here.
On the far norther end of the ticketed area lies a vast necropolis of ancient tombs of various shapes and sizes. This is perhaps the most atmospheric and slightly creepy sites to visit while in Pamukkale. There are hundreds of classical Roman styled tombs along with some peculiar circular tombs. The tombs are highly decorated and contain inscriptions cursing all who enter or disturb them. You can enter many of the tombs today if you dare.
Visiting the Antique Pool
If lazing about Roman columns while soaking in balmy 36 celcius mineral rich waters sounds good to you, then you will not want to miss out on the Antique Pool located on the top of the hill. The pools as you see today was the result of an earthquake in the 7th century, with the columns and other artifacts falling into the spring at this time. While you can see the pool for free, you will need to buy a one time entry ticket in order to swim in the pool. Tickets cost 32 Lira ($5.32) and allow you one bathroom break. Soaking our bones while resting on two thousand year old columns was the perfect way to spend the day as we waited for our night bus to Cappadocia.
Where to Stay and Eat
We stayed at Mustafa Hotel and couldn’t have been happier with our experience there. The room was great and it was a two minute walk from the ticket entrance to the terraces. The hotel staff speak good English and can help you with any questions that you have. A private room and bathroom cost 77 lari ($12.81) with no breakfast.
For food, options in town are all the same and of similar prices so it is best to just eat at your hotel. Mustafa’s food was great and of good value. Expect to pay 33 lira ($5.49) for a large meal for two.
Getting There and Away
Due to its popularity, Pamukkale is connected to most places in Turkey by bus. A bus from Istanbul runs around 100 Lari and takes 12 hours while a bus from Selcuk costs around 40 lari takes about 4 hours. From Pamukkale there are night buses that make their way to Cappadocia in 9 hours for 90 lira. Most buses arrive and depart in the town of Denizli which is 20 minutes from Pamukkale. You will most likely have to transfer here for a small fee before going to Pamukkale.
Pamukkale: Not as Expected but Full of Surprises
While the white terraced pools were a bit of a disappointment, there is still plenty of beauty to be found in Pamukkale. The rolling hills of ruins, the breathtaking panorama while soaking in the shallow cliff side pools is all in itself reasons to visit here. We enjoyed our two full days in the nature park which were full of relaxation and wonderment.