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One of Turkey’s major tourist attractions, Pamukkale – meaning ‘cotton castle’ – was a popular therapeutic spa destination in Roman times when the city of Hierapolis was established here, and continues to remain popular with the modern Turks who come for the curative powers of the warm mineral rich waters. Lying east of Kusadasi and some 19 kilometres north of Denizli in western Turkey, the UNESCO World Heritage listed site is most famous for its strange landscape comprised of a complex of unique saucer shaped formations called travertines – calcium carbonate shelves containing mineral pools, formed from the water which left deposits of calcium as it cascaded over the cliffs. These travertines spill down the powdery white hillside like a huge staircase.
Sadly, a tourism boom in the 1980s and 1990s saw the site damaged significantly, but fortunately the authorities eventually stepped into protect it. These days, visitors can still wander around a restricted area, but must do so in bare feet. While it’s no longer possible to take a dip in the travertines as the Romans did, you can still slip into the hot waters of the sacred pool of Hierapolis, which is now in the courtyard of the Antique Pool spa.Read more
There is plenty to discover at the ruins of Hierapolis above Pamukkale, which date back to 190 BC, when the ancient city was established by the King of Pergamum, Eumenes II. Prosperous under the Romans and the Byzantines, it was only abandoned after a major earthquake in 1334. Begin at the Hierapolis Archaeology Museum, in the former Roman Baths, where you can see the ruins of a Byzantine church and the Temple of Apollo, then head for the stupendous Roman theatre, which could once hold some 12,000 spectators. Restored in the 1970s, it has some pretty decorative panels and you can make out the VIP seats in the front row. Further up the hill, you’ll find the octagonal shaped Martyrium of St Philip the Apostle, where it’s thought Saint Philip was martyred, and spectacular vistas of the site, including another ruined theatre dating to Hellenic times and a large 2nd century agora or marketplace. Back down the hill, don’t miss the Appian Way of Hierapolis, a sprawling necropolis with a cluster of tombs, some topped by phallic symbols.