The Ruins of Hierapolis & The White Travertines

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed

Flag of Turkey  , Denizli,
Saturday, April 30, 2011

Upon returning to Pamukkale, we grabbed a quick lunch and then walked in the direction of the travertines. We paid our 20TL entrance fee and then walked to the start of the terraces. We had to take off our shoes until we were at the top because they aren't allowed in order to protect the mineral deposits. 

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, people have been soaking in the pools for centuries -- it must not have created a problem when it was relatively small numbers, but by the 1980s and 1990s, there were loads of locals and tourists taking advantage of Pamukkale's healing waters. This increase, coupled with the extra drain on resources caused by the construction of some new hotels built at the top of the mountain caused serious damage to the pools. UNESCO has worked with the local authorities to rehab the area, first tearing down the hotels at the top, then by closing off sections of the travertines so they can recover, and finally by limiting where and when people can access the terraces. They've built a number of artificial pools that people can use in order to protect the "real" ones. The water is still the mineral-rich good stuff from the source, so the base of the pool might be artificial, but the travertine deposits are real... which we could attest to as we walked up the mountain

We'd seen the terraces from the bottom, but hadn't realized that we would actually be walking through the pools on the hike up to the top.  As we made our way, we stopped frequently to wriggle our toes in the lovely warm water and appreciate the contrast between the snow white of the travertines and the royal blue of the beautiful April sky. As we got closer to the top, the water got warmer and warmer. As the water temperature increased, we started noticing people sitting and in the pools, which was also very unexpected -- we made a mental note to wear our suits the next day, rather than planning on changing into them.

The "mountain" is only 525 feet tall, but we'd been so absorbed in our surroundings that it had taken us quite a long time to climb to the top. Once there, we found that we'd been transported to another world. Our surrounding were what I'd always pictured when I thought of Tuscany: verdant green rolling hills, tall skinny trees, and Roman ruins.

The Roman ruins were from the former city of Hierapolis, which was founded around 190 BC. The settlement started out basically just as a thermal spa destination in the early 2nd century BC, and was shortly after given to the Romans in 133 BC. In 17 AD, it was destroyed by an earthquake during Tiberus's reign, and then again in 60 AD during Nero's reign. It was refounded and developed extensively in the 2nd and 3rd century, which led to the city's golden age. The city grew to 100,000 citizens and became one of the most prominent cities of trade, arts, and philosophy in the Roman Empire, which helped the city become quite wealthy.

St Philip, one of the twelve apostles, was crucified in Hierapolis in 80 AD and buried in the city. A matryion was built at his home, and is one of the ruins that still exists today. Unfortunately, the city's heydey didn't last forever; by 1210 AD, it only had enough inhabitants to qualify as a village. In 1354, what remained was destroyed by an earthquake, and the treasures of this once prosperous city lay buried for centuries until they were excavated and site was rediscovered by archaeologists.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around said ruins, strolling through fields of wildflowers, and enjoying the warm weather. By 6:30, we had reached the theater at Hierapolis -- another marvel of ancient architecture and engineering. We'd been impressed by the stadium and theater at Aphrodisias, but we were blown away by the theater at Hierapolis. It was massive, seating up to 15,000 people, and still in excellent condition -- and it had a gorgeous backdrop. We sat for quite a bit, taking in the peace and quiet, appreciating the history of the place, and enjoying a new corner of Turkey.

The sun had begun to sink over the travertines, creating an even more stunning view, but we wanted to explore a bit more before darkness fell, so we left the stadium and walked towards the southern edge of the terraces. We could appreciate how far the terraces stretched much better from that vantage point, as it allowed us to see across the travertines rather than just down, and we were provided with a beautiful view of the sunset reflected in the water of the pools. As the sun got lower and lower in the sky, we decided it would be wise to begin the hike down to the bottom. Most of the other visitors had left by that point, making it even more atmospheric. 

From there, we took the long way to get back to the guest house, where we stayed for the rest of the night. We enjoyed another veggie dinner (small, but tasty), then sat on our balcony and shared a bottle of red wine -- one of the area's local "brews" -- bringing us to the end of another very special day.

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