Turkey: Pamukkale and Heiropolis

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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.  Heiropolis was founded by Eumenus II in 190 BC. Originally part of Pergamum, the city later became part of the Roman empire. Considered sacred due to the thermal waters, Heiropolis thrived and grew to a population of more than 100,000 citizens.

We started our tour of the area in Heiropolis after paying the 50 TYL ($9) entrance fee. While much of Heiropolis 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. Check out this 7 second video for an overview.

Theater at Heiropolis

Pamukkale Thermal

After exploring some ruins, we visited Pamukkale. Pamukkale has two areas. The first area features the sacred pool which is the source that feeds the natural pools. The pool used to be part of one of the aforementioned decommissioned hotels, but was saved and is considered a swim club.

The commercialized pool area includes a garden, restaurant, gift shop and changing room. Visitors may soak in the warm waters which are peppered with old Roman ruins. While enjoying the 95⁰ water, don’t forget emperors and kings used to weekend here.

Pamukkale thermal pool

Pamukkal Limestone Pools

Down the hill are a collection the limestone pools, white with calcium deposits.  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! A 6 second overview video here.



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. Go on your own or find a tour on Viator. ETB


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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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