Pamukkale (literally “Cotton Castle”) is an absolutely unique natural wonder, as well as a spectacular archaeological site with unusually well-preserved ancient ruins. The name derives from the cottony appearance of the site’s travertines, white or light-colored calcareous rock deposited by the area’s rich mineral springs. The mineral composition of the thermal water creates and fills the white travertine pools. A strange but stunning landscape that smacks of surrealist painting, Pamukkale is unlike any other place in the world. Watch as the water in the basins continually changes color, depending on how the sunlight falls. The water gurgling upward from the springs harbors rich mineral content, with chalk, limestone, and cacareous rock all cascading down the mountainside.
Just above the travertines lies Hierapolis, founded circa 190 BCE as a curative center by Eumenes II of Pergamon. Hierapolis later flourished under the Romans and, even more so, the Byzantines, when large Jewish and Orthodox Christian communities comprised the bulk of the population. Recurrent earthquakes brought disaster, and Hierapolis was finally abandoned after a 1334 tremor. Walk through the fifth-century Byzantine gate, built of travertine blocks and marble, and pass the Doric columns of the first-century gymnasium. An important building in health-orientated Hierapolis, it collapsed in a seventh-century earthquake. The spectacular Roman theater, built in stages by Roman Emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus, could seat more 12,000 spectators. A path from the theater leads up the hill to the fascinating Martyrium of Saint Philip the Apostle, an intricate octagonal structure on the very spot where Saint Philip was supposedly martyred. Nearby lie the ruins of the Hellenistic theater (above the second-century agora or marketplace), one of the largest ever discovered, originally surrounded by marble porticoes with columns on three sides, and closed by a basilica on the fourth. Be sure not to miss the ruined Roman baths and the paved road—styled on the Appian Way—that leads to the northern gate, where a truly extraordinary necropolis (cemetery) extends several kilometres northward. The clustered circular tombs here no doubt belonged to the many ancient spa tourists whom Hierapolitan healers failed to cure.