Treasures of Turkey: Pamukkale

Turkey, with its vast unspoiled lands and abundance of history, draws me to it like a magnet each time I plan to travel.

Aside from all of the grand Mosques and Islamic history, Turkey’s immense lands hold on to the past, allowing us to be immersed in a time that once was.

I was in Turkey for a two and a half week break with my husband and two children. After having a relaxing week in Tuzla, Istanbul, we took the opportunity to see more of the country and headed to the southwest of Turkey. En route, we spent a night and a day in Capadoccia then boarded a night bus for the twelve-hour journey to Denizli.

Pamukkale which means “Cotton Castle” in Turkish, is located 19km from the district of Denizli in the Aegean region. It is home to Hierapolis which means “Holy City” in Ancient Greek and is a UNESCO world heritage site. Situated in picturesque landscapes scattered with poppies, Hierapolis is comprised of Greco-Roman ruins and natural thermal pools, dating as far back as the 2nd century BC.

We arrived in Denizli at around 6am and were taken to Pamukkale by a tour operator who very kindly allowed us to wait at his premises for our hotel to open. Once we checked in, we had a quick nap and freshened up. Our hotel was directly opposite to the Pamukkale Natural Park, and we were lucky enough to have a room with views of it. The kids were so excited to see the snow-covered hills overlooking the park. Their excitement quickly faded when I explained to them that it was hardened calcium carbonate that had deposited from the water of thermal pools, creating a beautiful display. Not as interesting as snow to them, but I was in awe of the natural phenomenon that stood before me.

After a lovely kahvalti (Turkish breakfast), provided by the hotel, we headed out to explore. A short drive uphill is the North and South entrances to Hierapolis. There is also an entrance at the top of the thermal pools which is possible to reach by foot. Our hotel owner advised us to take the South entrance to avoid having to walk uphill, especially as we had two children with us. After spending some time at the beautiful Natural Park, we took a taxi up to the South entrance. Once we arrived there, we took a few moments to take in the amazing views over Pamukkale.

We visited Pamukkale in the middle of April. It was fairly quiet at this time and many of the hotels and restaurants were closed. It is better to go sightseeing as early as possible in the morning to avoid the coach loads of tourists that arrive around the middle of the day. The weather was quite cool and as we were high up on open lands, it was also quite breezy, so do take a jacket with you if you decide to travel at this time of year.

As we passed the entrance, we found ourselves surrounded by poppies and dandelions. The contrast of the red and yellow created a stunningly serene scene. We spent some time admiring the natural beauty of the landscape before beginning our walk along the uphill path towards the ruins.

The first ruins we came to were of the Hierapolis Ancient Theatre. The theatre was constructed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 60AD and had a seating capacity of 15000. The theatre collapsed after an earthquake hit Hierapolis in the 7th century, and the area was abandoned.

As we entered the theatre, I was struck by how steep the seating area was. I managed to go down one or two of the steps and decided that was as far as I was going to go. My legs had turned to jelly at the thought of going down any further so I sat down and eyed the magnificent columns and statues on the stage. While my husband and children went down a little further, and my heart was leaping out of my chest as I watched them, I quickly diverted my attention back to the architecture of the theatre. The engineering of these structures always amazes me. Here I am, sitting in a theatre that was built predominantly by hand, thousands of years ago, and is still standing almost completely intact.

Once we had taken it all in, we left the theatre and began walking downhill towards the remains of the Temple of Apollo. The temple played an important role in Hierapolis. The ruins that remain are the foundations that were built during the Hellenistic era, long before the temple was built. On the side of the temple is Plutonium also known as Pluto’s Gate. People would come here to offer sacrifices to God. Any animal that was taken into this area, would lose it’s life fairly quickly. The priests, however, would emerge alive and led people to believe that they had superior powers. Knowing that the cave was filled with strong carbon monoxide, the priests would hold their breath when going in to avoid coming to any harm. A great way to make the people of that time listening to them!

We stopped briefly for a snack and a rest. There was so much more to see but the kids were getting restless as all they wanted to do was have a splash around in the water. So, we walked a little further down the hill towards Cleopatra’s Antique Pool. I suggest entering via the North entrance if you do not want to miss anything and take plenty of snacks and water with you especially if it is a hot day as there is little to no shade.

It is said that the pool was gifted to the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra by Marc Anthony. An ornate roof was built above the pool and was held up by Doric columns. The current shape of the pool formed when the earthquake occurred. The construction around the pool collapsed and to this day, sits inside the pool.

Alongside the pool is a cafe where you can sit and admire the pool or, for a fee, you can go for a swim in the thermal water of the pool and enjoy the many health benefits it is said to provide. We did the latter. Lockers are provided for personal belongings and there are separate changing rooms for men and women. Don’t forget to take a towel!

If like me, you cannot swim, do be careful about entering the pool. The surface can be quite slippery especially on the fallen columns where algae have formed. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the gloriously warm water with my son, while my daughter and husband had a swim and splash around.

Having spent some time in the pool, we were eager to go and see the hot springs that we had had a glimpse of from our hotel window. Remember I mentioned earlier that it was cool and breezy? Hmm. A warm pool on a cold day, not one of our better ideas. We must have resembled wind-up chattering teeth as we exited the pool through the open area to the lockers to get our belongings!

Once we were ready, we headed towards the magnificently stunning hot springs that Pamukkale is famous for. The hot springs appeared due to a number of earthquakes in the area. Once the naturally warm, mineral-filled water begins to cool, it releases carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into the air. Calcium carbonate is precipitated and a cascade of magnificent travertines is formed. Due to the sensitivity of the beautiful turquoise water, shoes are not allowed when walking through the hot springs, so keep a spare bag with you to carry your shoes in.

Walking through the hot springs was the highlight of our trip to Pamukkale. I am so glad we saved the best part to the end of our day. Coupled with the views of modern-day Pamukkale, it really was a memorable experience that will always stay with me and one I highly recommend.

Once we exited the hot springs, we walked back down the hill and decided to have some dinner before heading back to our hotel. As tourist season hadn’t begun yet, most of the hotels and restaurants were closed. With Turkey being a predominantly Muslim country, most restaurants and eateries serve halal food and it is usually easy to find something to eat. However, with so many of them closed at the time we visited Pamukkale, we had very limited choices and decided to eat at Tikir Grill House. They had a good variety of food which was delicious, especially their pide and fries, and the service was also very good. As the kids were very tired, we decided to head back to our hotel and pray in our room. There is a mosque situated in the vicinity of the hotels and restaurants. Unfortunately, we were unable to pray there on this trip, however, from the pictures I have seen of it, it does look stunning inside.

As I mentioned earlier, we traveled to Pamukkale from Capadoccia on a night bus. If you are planning on staying in Istanbul, why not book yourself a trip to Pamukkale? I recommend staying overnight to get the most out of your trip as there is more to explore. A short distance from Hierapolis is the Karahayit Red Springs which In sha Allah, I hope to return to see one day. If you haven’t already, put Pamukkale on your bucket list, you won’t regret it.


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