Resting on a plateau above Pamukkale’s Cotton Castle are the remnants of the ancient town of Hierapolis. With views over the dazzling white travertine terraces and 17 thermal springs, this town has to be home of the original spa break. If you visit Pamukkale I recommend you take a wander through Hierapolis – your trip won’t be complete without it.
We enter the town at the South Gate having been dropped off at the top of the hill by Mehmet in the hotel minibus. This means no steep climb which is just as well because the late September sun is screaming down on us and Mister’s wasp sting is looking pretty angry. I leave him with his foot in a shallow spring – will the waters work their magic? – and head up the hill to investigate the well-preserved theatre.
Constructed around 200 BC the theatre held up to 20,000 spectators, the stage buildings are decorated with detailed reliefs and there is VIP seating at the front; the views from the Gods at the top across the Lycos Valley are stunning. Over the centuries Hierapolis has been hit by several earthquakes and in 1334 a huge quake led to abandonment of the site, however, the theatre withstood the tremors due to the strength of the vaulted passages underneath.
To Hell and back? Or not…
I leave the theatre and follow the path down past the remaining foundations of the Temple of Apollo – dedicated to Apollo Lairbenos founder of the city. Had I crossed to the other side of the temple I’d have confronted the Gate to Hell – I’d have definitely sneaked a peek even if just to tempt fate! Named the Plutonium this small cave was believed to be the domain of the Roman god Pluto (Hades in Greek). Toxic gas was, and still is, emitted from an underground spring. The eunuch priests were the only ones with the power (or the savvy to hold their breath) to enter the cave and emerge unscathed. The small animals and birds they took with them didn’t survive. In recent years two tourists have died here and the subterranean entrance is now closed off – the fumes can apparently be heard bubbling through the underground spring as they rise to the surface.
I meet up with Mister and we bypass The Antique Pool – it’s warmed by hot springs and the water holds segments of ancient marble columns. You can also visit Doctor Fish to get your feet nibbled – but not really our thing. I hope it looks a little more antique inside…
We head down Plateia, the main street of Hierapolis, which runs for half a mile from the south gate to the monumental Arch of Domitian which serves as the northern entrance to the city. It has three arches and two towers, and was originally two stories high. The gate led into a colonnaded street known as Frontinus Street which was the centre of the city during Roman times.
To the left of the gate are the pillars of the latrine – the most public and the most ornate gent’s toilets I’ve ever seen – not that I’ve seen many gent’s toilets.
We pass through the Gate of Domitian and come to The Necropolis or graveyard which has three different areas, north, south and west. The north is the largest with more than 1200 graves including tumuli, sarcophagi and house-shaped tombs from the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian periods.
As long ago as 190 BC people travelled from afar to Hierapolis to take the waters and heal their ailments; although looking at the size of The Necropolis – the largest in Anatolia – it would seem that the waters were somewhat lacking. They certainly didn’t help Mister’s wasp sting – at least not half as much as the large, ice-cold Efes we had when we got back to Pamukkale town…
Entrance fees are 20TL to both attractions and entrance to the Hieropolis Museum of Architecture is a further 3TL. Visit in spring or autumn to avoid the high-season crush. Start your visit with a stroll through Hieropolis and save your descent down the travertine for just before sunset. It’ll be quieter, cooler and the white terraces will glow golden in the last rays of the sun as the moon rises behind the plateau.