We woke up today in Pamukkale, a city whose spelling I have to look up almost every time but more importantly is famous for its natural springs and breathtaking cliffs.
You can spot the cliffs of Pamukkale, or the “cotton castle,” from our hotel—huge white faces of travertine stone that glimmer amidst the surrounding hills. Today, water flows over the travertine terraces to keep them a shiny white, since they don’t receive as much natural water flow as they once did.
First thing in the morning, we traveled up to the top of Pamukkale to visit the ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis, which was built on top of the white “castle” beginning in the first half of the 3rd century BC.
Once at the site, we had free time to explore the ruins and thermal pools. Alex and I ended up walking to the far end of the old city, where thousands of broken sarcophagi fill the old necropolis, or cemetery. Since nothing was roped off, we were able to climb right inside of the tombs, peeking inside where once the wealthy were laid to rest. Because the waters of Pamukkale were thought to have healing powers, many sick people traveled to the city hoping to be treated. As a result, Pamukkale had the largest cemetery of the ancient world.
It was unbelievably cool to duck through doorways and climb down marble slabs into the tombs. Because most tourists stick to the thermal pools, the area around us was completely empty besides us. On more than one occasion, we turned to each other to ask, “Are we supposed to be here?”
And so, we got to explore the old tombs of Hierapolis much like archaeologists might several decades ago.
We eventually made our way back to the city’s famous hot springs, where large groups of scantily clad tourists waded through the pools. The cliffs were beautiful! The stone was so white that it almost looked like stone.
Quickly, the day was getting hot, so we got back into the bus to drive to lunch. On the way, we stopped by another hot spring known for its red waters—instead of the calcium-rich waters of Pamukkale, this hot spring had large quantities of iron in the water.
After lunch, the constantly rising temperature made half of our group want to go back to the hotel to rest. However, there was no way I was turning down a chance to visit an archaeological dig in progress.
So, our remaining group of two professors and four students continued in the sweltering bus to Laodicea, where there’s an ongoing archaeological dig to investigate the ancient metropolis dating back to the 200s BC.
Along the way, we stopped at a traditional kahve in the middle of a tiny agricultural village. They were surprised to see us, but welcomed us to have some çay!
We met up with one of the archaeologists from the site, who had been working on the dig for almost 11 years since he was 19 years old. The archeological dig operates 12 months per year, with a staff of 100 workers, to slowly uncover the vast ruins of the ancient site.
While Ephesus and Pamukkale were impressive in their own respects, it was even better to see the archaeological excavation in action. Unlike Ephesus, where almost 80% of what you see is recreation, the ruins at Laodicea were relatively well-preserved, since it was ultimately several severe earthquakes that caused inhabitants to abandon the city.
One of the most exciting finds at the site is the Laodicean Church, which was established in the earliest period of Christianity and dates back to the 3rd century. It’s best known for being one of the seven churches addressed by name in the Book of Revelation. They are still working on restoring the church, so it wasn’t yet open to the public, and they’re waiting on the Pope to come to the site for the first public unveiling. However, our guide was able to get us in to peek at the inside of the church for one minute.
When we ducked inside, we were able to see the expansive, beautifully intricate mosaics that covered the entire inside of the church. What was more impressive was that every piece of the mosaic was original—the archaeological team hadn’t added or recreated any portions themselves.
By the time we left Laodicea, it was hot—the thermometer was registering 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). We got back into our bus to head back to the hotel for some much needed time in the pool!