How to visit Pamukkale and Hierapolis by public transport
Pamukkale in Turkey’s Aegean area is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country. When considering a trip to Pamukkale, many visitors typically envision white travertine pools with turquoise water and perhaps Cleopatra’s Pool. However, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hierapolis-Pamukkale is actually composed of the remains of the ancient city Hierapolis, found on a travertine geological formation. If you are planning on visiting Hierapolis-Pamukkale, it is important to remember that there is more to see than just travertine terraces. So my guide on how to visit the area could be useful when you plan your itinerary.
What is Pamukkale and Hierapolis
Pamukkale is situated 20 kilometres from the town of Denizli. Its calcium oxide-rich waters have been flowing down the southern slope of Caldag Mountain for thousands of years, resulting in deposits of white travertine on the plateau. The area has a long history, with the ancient city of Hierapolis being founded around the 3rd century BC by King Eumenes II of Pergamon. Since then, the hot springs of Hierapolis have been used as a spa, attracting people to the city to relieve their ailments. Following an earthquake in 1334, the city was abandoned, leaving behind ruins, including a necropolis filled with sarcophagi. The majority of the ruins date back to the Roman period. Since 1957, an Italian archaeological team from the University of Lecce, sponsored by Fiat, has been carrying out excavation and restoration work there. The modern name of the area, Pamukkale, which translates to ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish, is usually associated with the travertine terraces only.
How to plan your visit
I visited Pamukkale as a part of my Turkey trip between Selcuk (Ephes) and Antalya. I arrived at Denizli, the closest city to Pamukkale, by train from Selcuk a little before noon. At the bus station, I took a minibus to Pamukkale.If you do just a day trip, I suggest leaving your luggage at the bus station’s left luggage office located on the lower level. Minibuses to Pamukkale depart every 15–20 minutes from gate 76 on the lower level of the bus station. I recommend going to the north entrance of Hierapolis-Pamukkale by minibus and then walking to the south entrance. The distance between the north and south entrance is around three kilometres, but since I was also strolling through the side streets, I walked closer to seven. So be prepared for around 3–4 hours to see the entire site. If you want to swim in the Antique Pool, you will likely need more time. Keep in mind that the bus stop in Pamukkale is around a 20 minute walk from the south entrance. You should be able to catch the bus to Antalya if it is your next destination. The other option is to stay overnight in Pamukkale and continue your trip the following morning.
Main sights of Hierapolis-Pamukkale
The Necropolis of Hierapolis spans two kilometres and is one of the tidiest in Turkey. It is estimated to contain around 1,200 tombs made of limestone, with some dating back to the Hellenic period. In addition, there are also several Roman and Christian tombs. Hierapolis was historically renowned for its healing capabilities, although the numerous graves in the Necropolis suggest that not all cases had positive results. The graves were designed to reflect the status and prominence of those buried there, with designs ranging from simple tombs to sarcophagi, circular Tumuli, and family graves.
Julius Frontinus, Proconsul of Asia Minor, had the Frontinus Gate built during 84–86 AD. It served as an impressive entrance to the Roman city, featuring three openings and two round towers, one of which is still in good condition. The gate opens onto a 14-metre wide plateia which spans the entire settlement.
The Nymphaeum was a shrine of the nymphs, a fountain which distributed water to houses throughout the city using a network of pipes. It was designed in a U-shape, with statues and shops around it. Today, only two side walls remain.
North Byzantine Gate
The monumental Northern Byzantine Gate was built in the late 4th century AD. This gate formed part of the fortification system and the entrance to the Byzantine city. Flanked by two square towers, it was built of reused material from the demolition of the Agora.
Temple of Apollo
The Temple of Apollo was located on the main street between the theatre and the sacred pool. After the original Temple of Apollo was reduced to its foundations, a new structure was built in the 3rd century in a Roman style, using marble recycled from the earlier temple. Only the foundations of the second temple remain today. The temple was fenced and not very well visible when I visited Hierapolis.
The Plutonium, situated next to the Temple of Apollo, is the oldest surviving local sanctuary. It is a small cave, big enough for one person, and features a set of stairs leading downwards. Underground geological activity in the cave produces toxic carbon dioxide and hot water with a powerful odour. People have died due to the dangerous gas, prompting a belief that it was sent by the god of the underworld. Replicas of the statues were recreated using laser scanning and 3D printing technology.
The Hierapolis Archaeological Site is home to the impressive Roman Theatre carved into the hills surrounding the area. Its stately construction and decorations, combined with its strategic placement, make it one of the best-preserved theatres in Turkey. Much of the stage still remains, as are a few ornamental panels and VIP seating. It is estimated that the theatre’s total capacity was more than 10,000 spectators. Continuous excavation at the site has revealed a variety of artefacts and sculptures depicting mythical creatures.
Hierapolis Archaeology Museum
The antique city of Hierapolis had an enormous Roman bath complex, including a library and gymnasium, which has survived to the present day. Since 1984, the city’s Great Baths have housed the Hierapolis Archaeology Museum. Works of art and artefacts from the excavations at Hierapolis are on display alongside finds from other towns of the Lycus Valley. The museum consists of several sections, including the Statues and Sarcophagi Gallery, Small Artefacts Gallery, Theatre Ruins Gallery, and a garden section. Statues, gravestones, pedestals, pillars, idols, and earthen cups are some of the artefacts exhibited at the museum.
The Antique Pool, or Cleopatra’s Antique Pool, has hot spring waters with healing qualities, ranging in temperature from 36–57 degrees Celsius. Previously, there were 15 such pools in Hierapolis. Shaped by an earthquake in the 7th century AD, the pool features portions of a marble portico with an Ionic roof and columns visible through the clear water. It is believed that Cleopatra once swam in this sacred pool. Visitors can go for a swim in the pool amongst these monumental pieces. Changing rooms are available, but towels are not.
The rooster statue is located in front of the Antique Pool. The emblem of the Pamukkale municipality includes the Denizli rooster, categorised by the Poultry Club as a ‘Rare Long Crower’. It appears that chicken breeding has a long history in Denizli, as excavations in the ancient city of Laodicea uncovered a marble relief featuring a crowned rooster that is 900 years old.
Earthquakes and the movement of tectonic plates in the area have caused the formation of these striking rock formations, and thermal waters, rich in minerals, have been brought to the surface. These mineralised waters have generated a series of petrified waterfalls, stalactites, and pools with step-like terraces, some of which are less than a metre in height, while others are as high as six metres. Some of the travertine pools have been filled with artificially supplied water, allowing tourists to swim. However, most of the travertine terraces are completely dry and cannot be accessed. The management of Pamukkale’s water resources has been a contentious matter for more than two decades. Investigations have suggested that the uncontrolled use of water reaching the travertines could cause them to dry up. It is important to remember that walking on the travertines is only allowed with bare feet and that the surface can be rather slippery. After visiting the travertine terraces, head to the south entrance to exit the site and make your way back from the Pamukkale town bus stop to the Denizli bus station or your hotel.
The entrance fee to Hierapolis and Travertines of Pamukkale is 400 Turkish Lira or 16 euros. The fee also covers a visit to the Archaeology Museum. You do not have to pay extra to walk around the Antique Pool, but if you want to swim, you need to buy a separate ticket. Do not forget to bring your swimming suit and towel. Many people visit the site as part of a tour group, arriving around midday and staying until the evening. To make your visit more enjoyable, I recommend starting your trip at the less-visited north gate. Also, you cannot wear shoes on the white cliffs, so make sure you have a bag to store them while walking up and down the terraces.
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Author: Anita Sane