Hierapolis, one of the sacred sites of Turkey, dates back thousands of years. The name itself is Greek for sacred city. Today, Heliopolis lies near the current Turkish city of Pamukkale (the Cotton Palace), both in southwestern Turkey. In ancient times and modern, people have flocked here to soak in the relaxing waters of the hot springs, walking along the rocky travertine terraces, and connect with something bigger than themselves. Roman centurions have given way to today’s travelers, but the experiences are much the same. Because of its importance to world history, UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations, has included Hierapolis and Pamukkale on its list of World Heritage Sites. Anyone who sees the ancient ruins, striking mineral formations, and amazing views will surely agree that Hierapolis belongs on the list of the world’s great treasures.
Before science could explain it, people found relief soaking in hot springs. A few places around the work have been blessed with healing mineral waters, including Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, Glenwood Springs in Colorado, and much of Iceland. Ever since ancient times, people have been drawn to Hierapolis for this very reason, and this history is fascinating to discover thousands of years later. The baths were made official around the second century BCE, and then gifted to the Romans by the King of Pergamon. The city and its baths changed hands a few times, but eventually the city settled into Roman rule, transitioning from a Greek-influenced community to a completely Roman town. The Romans already had a tradition of public baths, so the thermal baths were quite natural. Because thousands of people flocked to Hierapolis to soak in its baths, the city found great wealth. Soon, temples, a hot springs fountain, gymnasium, theater, and other visitor amenities sprung up in the town that eventually grew to 100,000 residents—an amazing number for the time. In the years since, some of the baths were converted into churches. The Hierapolis Archaeology Museum now occupies on of the baths, one of the largest buildings in the entire city. The exhibits display many of the artifacts from Hierapolis and its neighboring cities of modern-day Turkey. However, modern-day visitors can do more than just look at where the baths once were—some of the thermal springs are still open for dips.
The Romans and the city builders before them left their mark on Hierapolis—their expert designs and engineering techniques have largely withstood the test of time. On tours of Hierapolis, you’ll have the chance to see the buildings still standing, along with the ruins. With a little bit of imagination, you can almost see what the world was like when the Romans ruled the day. The archaeology museum features an entire wing dedicated to the ruins of the theater, while the structure itself remains some of the most visited ruins in Hierapolis. Other remnants from the city’s golden era include a temple dedicated to Apollo, as well as monuments to gods and prominent citizens. One of the newer monuments (relatively speaking) was built in honor of Saint Philip around the fifth century CE. As Christianity became the official religion of the empire, this monument to the Apostle took on new importance. Today, the site stands in ruins, with only the portico and a few rooms remaining, not far from the main street and the gates that once welcomed the Romans into their holy city.