A restored Roman amphitheatre, viewed from the top of the seating area, looking down at the stage

Hierapolis: A long day’s drive to some ruins

posted in: Turkey and the Caucasus 2022 | 2

I thought today’s excursion was about Pamukkale, and I’d also see the adjacent ruins of Hierapolis

It turns out today’s excursion was about Hierapolis, and I also saw the travertine pools of Pamukkale.

Getting there

I was scheduled to be picked up at 8am at my hotel.

At 8:10, I was still at my hotel, so I contacted Zerrin, my trip coordinator from Turkey Insiders.

And, soon enough, my guide arrived and I joined the other fourteen passengers on the fifteen-seat van. Apparently I was not on the list, and they were just on their way out of Kuşadası, so they had to turn around to come get me. I’m pretty sure the error was made by the local company that was providing this excursion, and not Turkey Insiders, since Zerrin’s attention to detail has been wondrous from the get-go.

This was the first large (or large-ish) group activity I’ve had on this trip. All my tours in Istanbul, and yesterday’s tour to Ephesus, were me, a guide, and two other people. I’m not a big fan of these kinds of groups, and the last seat in the van was uncomfortable with virtually no legroom, so things were not starting out well.

We drove about an hour and a half, and then stopped for a short break before continuing. Our guide, Ernan, gave a brief synopsis of the history of Hierapolis and Pamukkale, but otherwise the ride was pretty quiet (except for the couple in the back talking about brain receptors). I dozed. We drove another hour and a half.

Ernan said we’d stop for lunch at a buffet restaurant before heading to the site. But because lunch was only served betwen noon and 2pm, and we were going to be there early (around 11:30), we’d stop first at an onyx factory.


We got a brief demonstration about the types and properties of onyx. Then we were sent into the showroom.

We all know that tour guides supplement their income by taking us shopping. At all these stops, the routine is identical. First they talk about their product, and why it is the best of its kind, unique, or has health benefits. (Did you know onyx has health benefits???) If it’s food or drink items, there’s a tasting. If it’s handcrafts, there’s a demonstration of traditional methods, often by artisans in costume. Finally, they tell you about the discount you will enjoy off anything in the store. It can be a nice diversion if the products are interesting. It can be an annoying time-suck if they’re not.

The onyx was somewhere in between. I actually found a few things I might have liked for my vase collection, but they were very heavy, and with almost four weeks of travel ahead of me, I do not want to add a lot of weight to my luggage.

(Yesterday’s leather factory stop was in the “annoying time-suck” category.)


Next stop was lunch. The food at the buffet wasn’t especially good, but it was quick, and soon we were back in the van to head to Pamukkale.

Hierapolis and Pamukkale

As I said, this excursion was largely described as a visit to Pamukkale and Hierapolis. But it was really, for me, about Hierapolis.

After Ephesus, I didn’t really expect to be impressed by more ruins. But Hierapolis is very different. 

Most of the most impressive ruins at Ephesus have been restored or reconstructed. In many cases, new stuff was added to the old stuff to complete it.

But the ruins at Hierapolis are almost all authentic old stuff. The stage of the amphitheatre, undoubtedly the most impressive structure there, is 95% original; the seats, 100%.

Most of the other structures at Hierapolis remain as rubble. So the city has not been recreated in the way Ephesus has. Nevertheless, the experience of walking among these piles of relics made me feel viscerally connected to the people who walked here 2,000 years ago.

Pamukkale, on the other hand, felt like a day spa with impressive structural elements. I waded briefly into one of the pools, took some photos, and felt that I had sufficiently experienced it.

It felt odd, because so much of what I’ve read and heard about Pamukkale is how astonishing it is. And it is very big and very cool to look at. But I think I was more impressed by Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park.

It was nice that after Ernan walked us around for about an hour and explained a lot of what we were seeing, he gave us time to explore on our own.

A little history

Since I like history, I am going to share some of what I learned today about Hierapolis and Pamukkale.

The first structure built on the site was a temple dating from around 700 years BCE. The location near the thermal spa made it a place where sick people came, hoping for a cure. But most of them died, which is why there is an extensive necropolis nearby (which we didn’t see). Later, around 200 years BCE, the Greek emperor in Asia Minor, Antiochous the Great, sent 2,000 Jewish families here from Babylon, and within 150 years or so, there were an estimated 50,000 Jews living in Hierapolis. 

In 133 BCE Hierapolis became part of the Roman empire. A serious earthquake leveled the city in 17 CE. The Romans rebuilt, but another earthquake in 60 destroyed it yet again. Again the Romans rebuilt, and it is the city from this era that the current ruins belong to. The amphitheatre was built in 129 and renovated around 200. In the next hundred years the town grew to a population of about 100,000. It flourished until the 7th century, when first the Persians and then another earthquake left the city in ruins. It never recovered its former glory.

In 1190 the Crusades came. The Crusaders stayed for about 30 years. Then came the Turks. But a great earthquake in 1354 dealt the final blow to Hierapolis, and after that the city was slowly buried.

The first excavations began in the late 19th century. The hot springs and the town became a tourist attraction. The springs were given the name Pamukkale, meaning “Cotton Castle.” Hotels were built, almost destroying the ancient city before it could be excavated, but the hotels were later removed. Serious excavation started in 1957, and restoration began in 2008.

The ride back to Kuşadası 

Not everyone was going to back to Kuşadası, so the van was much less crowded on the way back. But before we could head back, we had to stop at a textile outlet. This one was more of an “annoying time-suck.” It was getting late, I we had a three-hour drive ahead of us.

The entire day was nearly twelve hours. Too long! But so worth it!

They were selling t‑shirts in the gift shop that said, “Turkey: one giant museum.” It’s true.

Here are the photos from Hierapolis and Pamukkale.

2 Responses

  1. Timothy Welch

    Hi Lane,

    I’m enjoying (and reminiscing) reading your entries. Thank you! I loved Hierapolis and felt the same way about Pamukkale. Did you get to the back of Hierapolis to see all the tombs? That was my favorite. Oh, my, I could have spent days there.

    I hope your trip continues to go well for you. I’m now on the Adriatic coast in Croatia and things are winding down to leave on Thursday. 🙁 

    Sending you best wishes.


    • Lane

      Sadly, there was no time to visit the necropolis. I just saw the handful of sarcophagi in the museum.

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