It was a photo like this that convinced me to change my plans and spontaneously buy a night bus ticket from Göreme (Cappadocia, central Turkey) to Denizli (Southwestern Turkey). Although I was sad to leave the natural beauty of Göreme and leave behind the people I had met at my hostel, my wanderlust got the best of me. With the additional pressure and motivation from other travelers who had just come from Pamukkale (pronounced: Pah-moo-call-eh), I found myself rushing to the Kamil Koç bus company’s ticket sales office and purchasing a ticket for the first night bus that left the next day.
What is this other-worldly place that looks like some kind of hokey ski resort surrounded by lush green grass, you may ask?
Pamukkale, which means “cotton castle” in Turkish, is a natural site which contains terraced hot springs made of travertine, a rock deposit similar to limestone, left by the waters of the hot springs. The springs, which have a silky smooth bottom to them, have been a pleasant place to bathe for thousands of years.
To get to Pamukkale, you must take a bus to Denizli, and then get a bus to the town of Pamukkale, which was only about 30-40 minutes away. From there, you can either walk up the mountain or catch another shuttle to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the shuttle that went to the top, so I ended up walking all the way up from the bottom with my heavy backpack and purse.
After paying to enter Pamukkale/Hierapolis, you must take off your shoes. Wearing shoes on the travertine surface may cause you to slip and fall. It is generally not a very smooth surface, and the excess water from the terraced springs makes it very slippery! At one point, I lost my balance and fell face first into a medium-sized pool. Luckily, I only scraped my knee a bit and none of my bags got wet.
You are bound to see crowds of tourists bathing in the hot springs on any given day, provided that the weather is nice. People tend to arrive from the top of the mountain, so the upper pools are usually packed. For a nicer, more relaxing bathing experience in Pamukkale, I recommend walking down the slope until you reach the bottom-half of the pools, where there are usually not as many people. You may even be able to find a whole pool to yourself.
As I sat down in one of the pools, which was a bit colder than I had expected, I noticed a strange thing happening around me:
People were picking up the silky travertine soil from the bottom of the pools and rubbing it on their skin. Many were letting it sit on their skin and dry before rinsing it off with the water. It seemed as if it were some kind of natural exfoliant, so I decided to give it a try.
It felt like silk in liquid form!
Although it smelled like a mixture of sulfur and chalk, I decided to let it dry on my skin so I could experience the full effects. After rinsing my skin, it felt silky smooth, similar to my experience after my first hamam, or Turkish bath (more on this later). My skin felt just as nice for the next few days. I was definitely not disappointed!
So, you might be wondering what I did with my things while I was bathing in the hot spring pools? It really wouldn’t be safe or wise to leave them on the side of the pools where they could get damaged, wet or stolen.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of places to leave valuables in Pamukkale. I found that the only option was to go to the top of the mountain and pay for an Antique Pool day-pass and use their lockers. You cannot use the lockers without paying for a pool pass, so I figured I’d just pay a little bit extra to use the Antique Pool so I could assure that my things were safe.
Unfortunately, the pool-pass is only valid for 2 hours and once you get in the pool, you have to stay in until you are finished. You are not allowed to re-enter without paying for a new pass.
It was a really interesting experience swimming in the modernized version of the Roman pool which has been seen as the spiritual center of Hierapolis, the ancient city above the travertine pools of Pamukkale, for thousands of years. I imagined ancient Romans bathing in the same spot as I swam past marble columns and capitals, ruins from the nearby Temple of Apollo.
The only real downside, besides the price and mere 2-hour stay in the pool, was the massive crowd of people in the pool. It was much worse than in the photograph above. Needless to say, I didn’t end up staying in the pool for the entire 2 hours. Instead, I decided to explore the nearby ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis.
I must admit that after seeing the ancient city of Ephesus near Izmir, my pictures of Hierapolis do not seem as thrilling. The ruins of Hierapolis are impressive, but they are definitely not as well-preserved as those of Ephesus due to various invasions and destructive earthquakes in Hierapolis throughout the centuries. The city of Hierapolis was inhabited from approximately the 3rd century AD to the mid-1300’s, when an earthquake caused the remaining structures to topple over. The city was then completely abandoned and it wasn’t rediscovered until the mid-1800’s when a German archaeologist started excavations in the area.
The ruins of Hierapolis are small in comparison to those of Ephesus. You can walk through all of them in about an hour or two, depending on your pace and the number of pictures you take.
There are still excavations going on throughout the site, so be careful where you walk. I accidentally walked into an unmarked excavation site and was kindly escorted out of there. Whoops!
Probably one of the most extraordinary and well-preserved of the ruins of Hierapolis is the theater. It was built in the 3rd century AD by the Emperor Septimius Severus and used well into late Roman times. Although the original structure was destroyed by an earthquake in the 7th century, restorations of the structure have brought it back to its original design. The theater has the capacity to seat about 15,000 people and its beautiful stage, which is decorated with marble columns, is about 12 ft high.
I climbed to the top of the auditorium and just sat there for at least 45 minutes, taking in the beautiful view of the theater, its stage, and the Denizli valley.
My trip to Pamukkale and Hierapolis ended up being a wonderful day full of hiking, swimming and relaxing. It was a small break that I needed in my crazy two-and-a-half-month Turkish adventure. I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to make it to Pamukkale during the summer, but it ended up fitting in my trip perfectly right between Cappadocia and Izmir/Ephesus. This was one time when my spontaneity definitely worked in my favor!