14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Pamukkale
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Pamukkale is a surreal natural wonder of rippling semi-circular, pure-white travertines that sit among green farming fields. This white mountain is one of Turkey's most photogenic spots and one of the country's most famous landmarks. For many visitors, it's a must-do on their Turkey travels.
Although most travelers come here for the travertines alone, Pamukkale is actually a two-in-one deal for attractions, with the ruins of the Roman spa town of Hierapolis sitting on the travertine mountain's summit. Here, as well as the preserved ruins of a theater and other grand monuments, you'll find the renowned hot spring pool, where you can do as the Romans did and bathe away your aches and pains.
Discover more places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Pamukkale.
See also: Where to Stay in Pamukkale
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The dazzling white calcite cliff of Pamukkale was created by calcium deposits from the area's hot springs. In the same way that stalactites form within limestone caves, the deposits grow on the steep slopes, gradually fanning out to form natural terraces. Pamukkale means "cotton castle," and the blinding white color of these travertines do look like a bizarre natural fortress of sorts.
The best way to do your sightseeing here is to walk (barefoot only) from the base of the calcite mountain up the entire cliff ridge. The terraces at the upper levels hold pools of water, which you can sit in.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Pamukkale
2. Hierapolis City Ruins
First founded by King Eumenes II of Pergamon soon after 190 BC, Hierapolis was originally a fortified military colony. The original city was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 60, and it was after the rebuilding that its glory days began.
The city enjoyed its greatest prosperity during the 2nd and 3rd century when, with its on-tap natural hot springs, it became an important spa center. The remains of a grand colonnaded street run parallel to the travertines below for just over one kilometer, extending between the necropolis to the north and a Byzantine church at the southern end.
From the church, if you take the eastern path, you come to the Temple of Apollo and its famed Plutonium (a cave beneath the temple that was a source of poisonous gas). Here, the priests would consult the oracle, bringing in birds and small animals killed by the rising gas.
Today, nothing much survives of either. East from the remnants of the Agora is the octagonal Martyrium of the Apostle Philip, built on the spot where the saint and his children were supposedly martyred after he remonstrated with the pagan-worshippers of Hierapolis.
3. Hierapolis Theater
On a slope above the rest of the Hierapolis ruins is the mighty theater, with its facade over 100 meters long and two tiers of seating, each with 26 rows.
Built during the reigns of the Roman Emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus, the theater is incredibly well-preserved. It has retained much of its original detail, with the imperial boxes (where VIP guests would have watched the entertainment) and some decorative panels along the stage still surviving. There are fine views from the top seating tiers.
4. Pamukkale Antique Pool
If you want to partake in some restorative hot-pool soaking just like the Romans did–but without the togas–then look no further. Pamukkale's Antique Pool (beside the Temple of Apollo) allows you to soothe those weary travel muscles in mineral-rich hot spring water that is a steady 36 degrees Celsius.
It's possibly the most atmospheric hot spring experience you'll ever have, with half-submerged columns and chunks of fallen marble scattered in the water all around you.
5. Hieropolis Museum
This small but excellent museum dedicated to Hierapolis is inside the ancient city's former Roman bath house. A visit here will help bring the city to life. The exhibits showcase some of the beautiful artistry and cultural heritage of this once important city, displaying a variety of finds from the site, including gorgeous and intricate stone reliefs, sarcophagi, and statuary.
The museum also has a decent collection of statuary from the nearby archaeological site of Aphrodisias.
6. Pamukkale Castle
Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) was originally only the name of this 11th- or 12th-century castle, which sits just off the road leading from Pamukkale town up to the Hierapolis plateau. Most tourists don't bother coming up here, so this is a great chance to get away from the tour bus crowds for a while.
If you do visit, you will be rewarded with superb views over the travertines from the castle ruins, which are well worth the detour. Sunset is the best time to come, as the changing light makes the travertine terraces glow.
Lovely Laodikeia, about 12 kilometers south of Pamukkale, was once home to Cicero. This Roman commercial center was a bustling city of industry, medicine, and trade. As Christianity began to take over from the earlier pagan religions, a large population of Christians and Jews lived here. The ruins, though sparse, are highly photogenic, and there's an interesting mix of remnants from the temples and theaters of early Roman settlement to the later Christian early-Byzantine era.
It's a bit off the normal Pamukkale area itinerary (which usually just visits the terraces and Hierapolis), so if you have this on your things to do list, you're likely to get the entire site to yourself.
- Read More:
- Exploring Laodikeia: A Visitor's Guide
Modern research has transformed Aphrodisias from a place few visited into one of the most important historic sites in Turkey. About 97 kilometers southwest of Pamukkale, the site produced Chalcolithic finds, which show the area was settled in the 4th millennium BC, and early Bronze Age pottery finds also suggest there was an Assyrian trading colony here during the Hittite period.
The settlement's golden age though was in the Hellenistic and Roman eras, when its sanctuary became the center of the wide-spread Aphrodite cult, and the city also became famous for its schools of sculpture, medicine, and philosophy.
The Temple of Aphrodite was built in approximately 100 BC and still has 14 standing columns (two with architraves in place). In the 5th century, the Byzantines converted this pagan temple into a three-aisled basilica.
To the north is the mammoth and well-preserved Stadium, which could hold 30,000 spectators. To the south of the temple is the bouleuterion, decorated with reliefs and statues, the best preserved monument in the site.
9. Caravanserais near Pamukkale
Caravanserais (roadside inns also known as hans) dot the plains of the region surrounding Pamukkale, a relic of the days when this area was part of a major trade route through to central Anatolia.
On the road from Denizli to Dinar stands the Akhan, a Seljuk caravanserai founded in 1253 by Emir Karasungur. It has a marble-faced east facade, an arcaded courtyard, and a triple-aisled winter hall.
Near the town of Çardak, 55 kilometers east of Denizli, is the Çardakhani. This Seljuk caravanserai has two massive towers and an inscription flanked by two lions above the portal. It was endowed in 1230 by the general Rasideddin Iyaz.
First excavated in the 1950s by Lloyd and Mellaart, the Beycesultan Tepesi archaeology site (10 kilometers south of the provincial town of Çivril) is an important prehistoric settlement. For the Stone Age alone, 21 layers have been found within 11 meters of sediment.
Evidence of settlement here has been found up to the early Bronze Age (1250 BC) and again from 400 years later, up to the Byzantine era. In Layer V (1900 BC), the remains of a palace have been found, and in the Bronze Age layers, traces of a shrine with sacrificial vessels, a blood altar, and statuettes of the goddess Cybele have been unearthed. Çivril is about 103 kilometers northeast of Pamukkale.
11. Karahayit Hot Springs
These scorching mineral-rich hot springs (temperatures up to 55 degrees Celsius) bubble up from the chalk-coated rocks only five kilometers from Pamukkale. The presence of various oxides (including iron oxide) in the water has tinged the calcium carbonate of the springs with a variety of colors.
Beneath the springs is a small bathing pool, where you can soak until your heart's content. This is a great place to soothe weary travel muscles and take a break from the road for an hour or two.
This is one for the enthusiastic amateur archaeologists. The scanty remains of the once great Phrygian city of Colossae (also known as Kolossai) lie in the Lykos Valley, near the Lykos River, 20 kilometers east of Denizli. Its great age was during the Hellenistic period.
By the time the Romans had taken control over the region, it was increasingly overshadowed in importance by the cities of Laodikeia and Hierapolis, and the town eventually lost its prominence. Nevertheless, the city's name remained known because of St. Paul's epistle to the Christian community here. There's not much to see, but the views over the rolling fields out to the mountains beyond are quite lovely.
The town of Sarayköy, at the western edge of the Hierapolis valley, about 25 kilometers west of Pamukkale, is probably old Karura (or Kyorara), which lay on the border between Phrygia and Cara. It was known for its hot springs and Herophilian medical school. Herophilus was a 4th-century BC doctor, considered the most important doctor of antiquity after Hippocrates.
If you have a car, it's easy to include Sarayköy in a loop of the sights and attractions around Pamukkale–also taking in Laodikeia, Aphrodisias, and Colossae on the same trip.
Everyone passes through Denizli on their way to Pamukkale, but few stop here. This thoroughly modern town is the provincial capital and grew into a bustling center during the 14th century. The great medieval Arab traveler Ibn Battuta described the town as a fine commercial center, with seven mosques, baths, and bazaars, as well as a resident prince.
Denizli was twice destroyed by earthquakes, once in the beginning of the 18th century and again in 1899. This has left the town with no buildings of historical interest. Excellent restaurants, cafés, and parks are in the center though, so it's a good place to stop for a lunch break if you're on a road trip. Denizli is about 17 kilometers south of Pamukkale
Where to Stay in Pamukkale for Sightseeing
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Melrose House Hotel is a friendly family-run guesthouse just a short stroll from the travertines. The lovely gardens have a pool, the included breakfast is excellent, and evening meals can be provided. Nearby, the Venus Hotel is another good-value guesthouse with modern, well-appointed rooms and a good-sized pool in the garden. Breakfast is included.
- Budget Hotels: The family-run Bellamaritimo Hotel offers a great central location close to both the travertines and the facilities of the village, a small pool, an included breakfast, and good-sized rooms with private balconies.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Pamukkale
- Tours from Izmir: The Pamukkale and Hierapolis Tour allows you to see the travertines and ruins of Hierapolis on a day tour from Izmir, with lunch included and the service of an English-speaking guide. Transport is by air-conditioned coach.
- Tours from Selçuk: The Pamukkale Day Tour from Selçuk is a great add-on to your Ephesus trip. It visits both the travertines and the remnants of Ancient Hierapolis with included entrance to the famous Antique Thermal Pool for a soak. All transport, including pickup and drop-off from your Selçuk hotel plus lunch, is included.
- Escape the Crowds: Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to visit. The site gets busy with tour buses between 10.30am and 3pm. If you stay overnight in Pamukkale village, you can get here early or late and beat the crowds. It's also a good idea to enter from the middle gate (at the base of the hill) rather than from the gate at the summit. Tour buses always enter from the summit, and many tourists don't bother walking down the full extent of the terraces from the top.
- Explore the Area: Hiring a car to explore the surrounding countryside and its scattering of ancient ruins is an excellent idea.
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More Things to Do in the Region: Head towards the coast for Selçuk with its bundle of Byzantine-era ruins right in town and the vast ruins of Roman Ephesus. For a fun-in-the-sun beach break afterwards, Kusadasi, with its castle, is the closest resort.
More Natural Wonders: Inland, you'll find the volcanic landscape of Cappadocia, with its valleys of rock cones winnowed by wind and water. On the Black Sea coast, you can visit Karaca Cave, one of Turkey's most interesting cave networks, crammed with stalactites and stalagmites.