Turkey: Pamukkale and Heiropolis

I actually signed up for this G-Adventures tour, a budget National Geographic company, specifically because the itinerary included Pamukkale.  Pamukkale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which features natural travertine terraces of thermal pools.  I saw a picture of the famous site in a National Geographic magazine at least 10 years ago and have wanted to visit ever since.


I was surprised to find the Pamukkale very different from the photo.  First and foremost, the natural wonder is next to ruins of a 2,000 year old city, Heiropolis.  The Greek city founded in the 2nd century BC, later became part of the Roman empire. It was once home to more than 100,000 citizens.

We started our tour of the area in Heiropolis. While much has been destroyed from previously constructed hotels that have since been removed, the theatre was very well maintained. It provided wonderful views of the vast grounds where doctors used the waters for cures.  I couldn’t believe I didn’t know anything about the ancient thermal city which has attracted visitors for thousands of years.

Theater at Heiropolis

Pamukalle Limestone Pools

After exploring some ruins, we visited the limestone pools.  Many of the terraces were dry as the water had been diverted to man-made pools. The government does this to protect the area from tourist damage.  While disappointing that the accessible terraces were dry, there were some below that were full.

inaccessible pools at Pamukkale
The inaccessible pools below where I wish we could have gone!

Regardless, the man-made pools were quite picturesque. The white pools with aqua water descend the mountainside with views of snow capped mountains in the distance.  Visitors may wade or soak in the pools, though in March the only water that is warm is a narrow canal used to fill them. 

Some of the natural formations aside the pools are sharp while other surfaces with a light stream of water running over them are slick. As a result of both the air and water temperature, we only waded very carefully!



Mesmerized by the beauty and hopeful we could snap a photo without tourists in it, we lingered longer than planned. Despite a limited number of visitors due to COVID, the folks pictured above decided to relax in the narrow canal.

We gave up on the tourist free photo, especially when two Japanese girls stood in the pools taking every possible selfie imaginable. Moving on, we visited additional ruins, much of which was a necropolis.  The necropolis includes the Tomb of Philip the apostle and hundreds of sarcophagi. 

sarcophagi at heiropolis

With a guide who studied archaeology and specialized in sarcophagi, we spent a long time admiring the ancient city. The ruins included the aforementioned necropolis, gates, Roman baths, and more.


Pamukkale was truly fascinating, not for what I expected…but for the unexpected.  We really enjoyed our time visiting both the terraces known as the cotton castle from the white calcium deposits and Heiropolis, the holy city.  Pamukkale is definitely worth a visit while in Turkey.



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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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