Pamukkale and Hierapolis

August 06, 2007


“Swimming with the Gods” is how my friend Tom described the Sacred Pool used by ancient kings and emperors 2000 years ago, so we were looking forward to experience this unique World Heritage Site and the many joys of Pamukkale and Hierapolis. I think he was referring to the ancient columns and capitals that float in the clear healing waters that can not help remind one of how important this pool and area was in both Hellenistic and Roman times. It is thrilling to be able to actually SWIM in ancient ruins and the healing spa waters make one feel unbelievably wonderful!

The city of Hierapolis, which is just above the Sacred Pool and cliff-side white travertines, was founded in 190 BC by Eumenes II as part of the Pergamum empire. It reached the height of its powers at the end of the 2nd and 3rd centuries under the Romans and was considered a sacred site because of the magical waters.

Summer is not the best time to come to this site as thousands upon thousands of people come daily from large tour busses from all over Turkey. It is also too hot in the summer to fully appreciate the warm waters like one would on a crisp spring or fall day. It was extremely hot when we got there and it is a long walk to the Sacred Pool, all of it without shade with the hot sun pouring down on you. It is 656 ft (200m) above the modern village and farming plain below, thus spectacular views over them and to the mountains in the distance.

Thank goodness we left Aphrodisias late, as tons of people were rushing back to their tour busses as we arrived. I tried my usual trick of late, pouring cold water on my head to keep me from over heating on the long walk there, but still was not much in the mood for a hot water soak. Nevertheless that was the only water that was around so I figured at least the evaporation would cool us off when we got out and we did not have to spend much time in it. We were sweating bullets just changing into our bathing suits in the changing room and getting a little grouchy.

Ahhh, the water WAS wonderful and something I won’t ever forget. I was feeling a little ill from all the walking and heat, but once I got into the water I felt much better. It was not very warm, but I did not stay long at first as I wanted to take some pictures, still I was amazed at how much better I felt. It did not take me long until I was back in again. There was a little bit of green algae floating about that we were not too fond of and as DaVinci joked “the algae ruined it for me”, but mostly it was a very positive experience and Mozart just loved it. There were some women there in thong bikinis as well as a few others fully covered in black except for their eyes. We saw mostly Russians I think.

We were so glad that the crowds had thinned out and it got more and more empty as we continued to soak, swim and enjoy the lush, pretty tea garden and flowered atmosphere. If I had to do this again, I would do it by staying over one night here as it is really too far from any where to be a day trip as it deserves the luxury of lingering away from crowds, without having to drive again. Mozart loved playing on the striated columns, even standing on some and posing as a Goddess and did not want to ever leave. We continued to baste in the mineral rich waters right up to closing time as we just could not pull ourselves away.

The Sacred Pool is the main source of the water that feeds the travertines that sit a little below it. The name “travertine” comes from the travertine deposits in Italy which were called Tivertino in Roman times. The best estimates have the travertines in Pumkkale in existance for 14,000 years. They look like a huge snow mountain when you first see them, as the calcium deposits during thousands of years from the spring water coursing down the mountain, turn everything very white.

We headed to the travertines after we left the Sacred Pool which have an awe inspiring view. Mozart was game for playing bathing beauty in the white terraced pools, but it made me a little nervous since it is so high up. She is a fast moving kid, they are slippery and of course I worried about her falling off the cliff, so
we tried to keep her confined to the terraced pools away from the edge. I even worried about DaVinci as he seemed to walk precariously close to the edge to get the photos he wanted. I even slipped and slid around, crocs and all, not to miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity, but liked the thermal pool better.

The travertines were awesome to look at and take pictures of and we wandered for quite a while just looking at them and the views from every angle. As the sun started to set, we made our way over to do a cursory look at Hierapolis and its famous stadium and Roman baths, as it still was too hot and too late for anything more. It has the best preserved stadium in Turkey (where they have folkloric productions in the spring festivals) & later a basilica was built on the site they believed St Philip was martyred.

On the way, we ran into a watering sprinkler for some plants, that just came on. DaVinci spontaneously played in the cold water (as we were ready for some relief again) and soon all three of us Soul Travelers were acting Mozart’s age and laughing it up getting soaked. There was no one around and we enjoyed
the tomfoolery in the heat.

It was dark by the time we headed home back to the Kalehan in Selcuk and we knew it would be a long way, especially driving in a foreign land, late at night. We still had to get something to eat and I spotted a Burger King on the way home which was the “cherry on top” for Mozart’s perfect day. Naturally there were long lines, so even “fast food” added more time to our return trip.

As much as we love sampling food from each nation, we also really enjoy a bit of home and enjoy our occasional stops at McDonalds, Burger king or Subway. We do not eat at them much, but I think it is more than we did at home. I especially hate the unhealthy burger joints, but sometimes they hit the “comfort food” spot just right after a year of mostly foreign food.

When we were still not back by ten o’clock, they were quite worried about us at the Kalehan and Aija called us on our cell phone. It was slow going at night as we were on many country roads and had to keep stopping to ask and make sure we were heading in the right direction. I thought it was sweet that on the way home we saw a crescent moon with just one star that looked just like the Turkey flag and wondered if that is why they chose that pattern. Despite language challenges, everyone that we asked, was very helpful.

Aija and her son were both waiting up for us when we got there (how sweet!) as was the guy from the rental car company whom we had called to inform that we were running later than expected. The kids, as usual, were very excited to see each other and we decided to add another day to our stay to recover from our very long (but exciting) day trip.













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Wow -- what an exotic place to take a dip! Hope to someday see it myself, but I enjoyed your account of it in the meantime. Thanks.


What an amazing place and great article! I am inspired to go there on my next trip to Turkey!

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