Swimming in the Antique Pools of Hierapolis

Apart from the legendary travertines and terraced pools, tourists flock to Pamukkale also to see the ancient city of Hierapolis.  Built in the early 2nd century BC, Hierapolis’ ruins sit in the hills of Pamukkale—scattered across a grassy field at the end of the 1km climb up the white, terraced travertines.

Visitors will need to walk at least 5km to see all the ruins of the ancient city.  If you do not have much time and have to choose one area to see, the ancient amphitheatre is absolutely unmissable.  Having seen my fair share of ancient amphitheatres in Greece and Italy, I was thoroughly impressed by how well-preserved Hierapolis’ amphitheatre was—from the diazoma (auditorium seats), to the facade (stage), to the stairwells between the rows of seats.  And even more,  once at the top, the site will give you commanding and breathtaking views of the rest of the ancient city, the town of Pamukkale at the bottom of the hill, and the blue mountains in the distance.


Ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis


The Hierapolis amphiteatre is possibly one of the most-preserved in the world


From the top row, you’ll get commanding views of Pamukkale and the mountains in the distance

Apart from the amphitheatre, another must visit is the antique pool also known as Cleopatra’s Pool. Tickets priced at 30TL per person give visitors access to the mineral-rich spring waters of the antique pools and a full-service locker, dressing room, and shower facility. Like the Széchenyi thermal bath spring in Budapest and other popular thermal pools in the world, Cleopatra’s Pool was jam-packed with bathers. Add the fact that there’s a cafe/restaurant right around the rim of the pool, the scene was quite far from a serene retreat—in fact, it was closer to a touristy party resort.  This was a bit of a shame given the genuine healing benefits of the water.  Had the setting been more quiet and with less people, I can imagine that sitting in the 36ºC water can be healing not just for the body, but also for the mind and spirit.

Alas, we were surrounded by a Russian bus tour group and men and women were straddling the ancient pillars from the 7th century posing for photos.  Fazed by the photography frenzy, my husband and I moved to a quiet spot and perched ourselves atop of a couple of submerged ionic columns while we tuned out the photo shoot that unfolded on another side of the pool.

Finally undisturbed by the Russian ruckus, we were able to find a few peaceful minutes appreciating the ancient ruins that lay beneath us.  I traced the column lines of a 2,000-year-old  Doric column with my fingers as I sat on it.  We also soon discovered that we were completely covered with tiny bubbles as if we were submerged in champagne—also a feature of the natural thermal waters.  And as the Russian fotosessiya continued, my husband and I busied ourselves with our own pop-the-tiny-bubbles-from-our-bodies party.


The ancient ruins of Cleopatra’s Pool


Visitors get to bathe in the healing waters shared with ruins from the 7th century


Finding peace and quiet atop a pile of 2,000-year-old Doric columns


Submerged and preserved in time


Like swimming in a pool of champagne


Make sure to bring along your underwater camera


Swimming and touching antiquity

Fizzy waters, healing promise, ancient ruins, Russian tourists, Turkish house music—the time we spent in the antique pools was quite unusual, but all together a fun experience.  I recommend that you time your visit at opening hours before the bus loads of tourists arrive.  Then, you’ll most likely have more peace and quiet and appreciate the healing benefits of the thermal pool like the ancient Romans did many many centuries ago.

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