Pamukkale and Hierapolis, Turkey

After we spent the first two days in our hotel in Belek and enjoyed the beach, we left by bus for Pamukkale.  There were three buses in our group and the bus drivers were brothers.  It was the prerogative of the oldest brother to drive in front - his younger siblings were not allowed to pass him. That would have been disrespectful.

Striking Gold and Evil Eyes

Rouge is actually wearing all the "jewellery" we acquired during our trip - a couple of Blue Eyes and a coin talisman, and even those were gifts.

The blue eye charms Rouge is wearing on her belt are Nazar Boncugu ("Evil Eye Beads" or Evil Eye, Blue Eye, Blue Eye Beads, Glass Eye Bead, Eye of Protection, etc.). These lucky charms are believed to reflect evil and protect the wearer against the "evil" associated with envious or covetous gazes and/or other negative thoughts or energies that may be directed at him. This force of the Evil Eye (or Nazar) is a widely accepted and feared random element in Turkish daily life. Nazar Boncugu are just about everywhere - stores, offices, homes, and of course they are also popular souvenirs. Our bus drivers had some next to their seats, too. Once a Boncuk is found cracked, it means it has done his job and immediately a new one has to replace it.

Of course the first station on our journey was a jeweller's store just outside Antalya where we got a glimpse of the goldsmiths at work. While there were very nice pieces to look at, the stay need not have been quite as long for our taste, since we did not want to buy anything - and that afternoon, we arrived rather late at Pamukkale and did not have as much time there as we´d have liked to. I took this picture of a stork nesting on a telegraph pole while waiting outside for the rest of the group to come out.

Nevertheless it was a little more than a mere sales stop: Gold jewellery is an important factor in Turkish culture.  Turkey has the world's third biggest market for it after India and the U.S.  and a huge jewellery industry. It is the fifth biggest importer of gold worldwide, and roughly three quarters of Turkey's gold gets used in jewellery production. Tourists visiting the country make up roughly one quarter of the market (...the other tourists, that is, since we resisted all attempts to talk us into buying something). The main market, however, is not foreigners:  Gold is a traditional savings instrument in Turkey.

Gold brooches, bracelets and other jewellery are given to women during weddings as dowries, and they are their own to keep even if the husband dies or divorces them. Anatolian families hoard the precious metal as a hedge against inflation and as a precaution for bad times. And just about any jeweller´s store is ready to buy gold items for cash. As one Turkish minister phrased it:   "Gold has an indispensable place in the lives of Anatolian people. Babies* in Anatolia recognize gold as soon as they open their eyes to the world; they come across it at all turning points in their lives; in gold, they find their last security and comfort. Gold, for Anatolian people, is the symbol of sharing on good days; on bad days, the power to hold on."  (

*funny typo: I just realized I had accidentally written "Barbies in Anatolia". :-) Rouge is rolling on the floor laughing - after all, Barbie has become the doll archetype of a material girl...

Journey to the Cotton Castle

Our journey took us through the Taurus mountains. Just imagine, both Euphrates and Tigris emerge from this mountain range (though not exactly here or anywhere close to Antalya - the entire mountain range is more than 1000 km long). It was formed by the collision of the European and African continental plates.

One of our stops was at this reservoir lake near Karacaören.

The further we got into the Anatolian highlands, the more the vegetation changed from forest to steppe. The highlands of Anatolia are considered the heartland of the country. It may not look that way in the pictures, but here, fruit trees, cotton, roses and opium are grown. The roses are made into rose oil, rose water, rose jam or lokum (Turkish delight, which comes in many flavours). According to our travel guide, the opium is exported to the USA for medicinal purposes.

A glimpse into one of the souvenir shops where we took a break with some bellydancing costumes and scarves, hats and carpet-style woven purses which - when stuffed - make lovely doll-sized cushions.


Hierapolis, whose name means "sacred city," was believed by the ancients to have been founded by the god Apollo. It was famed for its sacred hot springs, whose vapors were associated with Pluto, god of the underworld.

Today, Hierapolis is a World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination. Usually said to be founded by Eumenes II, king of Pergamum (197-159 BC), Hierapolis may actually have been established closer to the 4th century BC. The name of the city may derive from Hiera, the wife of Telephus (son of Hercules and grandson of Zeus), the mythical founder of Pergamum. Or it may have been called the "sacred city" because of the temples located at the site. (The name Pamukkale is sometimes used just to refer to the white terraces, but the modern name of the whole area is also Pamukkale.)

The temple of Apollo that survives in ruins today dates from the 3rd century AD, but its foundations date from the Hellenistic period. Also worshipped at Hierapolis was Pluto, god of the underworld, probably in relation to the hot gases released by the earth (see the Plutonium, below). The chief religious festival of ancient Hierapolis was the Letoia, in honor of the the goddess Leto, a Greek form of the Mother Goddess. The goddess was honoured with orgiastic rites.

Hierapolis was noted for its textiles, especially wool, and for its purple dye, made from the juice of the madder root. The hot springs at Hierapolis (which still attract visitors today) were believed to have healing properties, and people came to the city to bathe in the rich mineral waters in order to cure various ailments.

Hierapolis was ceded to Rome in 133 BC along with the rest of the Pergamene kingdom, and became part of the Roman province of Asia. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 60 AD but rebuilt, and it reached its peak in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

Hierapolis had a significant Jewish population in ancient times, as evident by numerous inscriptions on tombs and elsewhere in the city (here´s one begind Rouge). It is actually mentioned in the Bible by St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians.                        

Ancient tradition has it that Philip died in Hierapolis around 80 AD. However, it is not clear which Philip is meant. It could be Philip the Apostle, one of the original 12 disciples, who is said to have been martyred either by upside-down crucifixion or by being hung upside down by his ankles from a tree. Or Philip could be Philip the Evangelist, a later disciple who helped with administrative matters and had four virgin-prophetess daughters (Acts 6:1-7; 21:8-9). Early traditions say this Philip was buried in Hierapolis along with his virgin daughters, but confusingly call him "Philip the Apostle"! In any case, it seems a prominent person mentioned in the Bible did die in Hierapolis. The Martyrium (or Martyrion) of St. Philip, outside the walls by the northern part of the city, was built in the 5th century AD on the supposed site of Philip's martyrdom. 

Most of what you see today is from the Roman period, as the original Hellenistic city was destroyed by successive earthquakes in 17 AD and 60 AD.

The necropolis (city of the dead) of Hierapolis is the largest and best preserved in Anatolia. It contains more than 1,200 tombs of various types, including tumuli, sarcophagi and house-shaped tombs from the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian periods.

Rouge: "Whoa. Someone should really clean up here..."

The Mausoleum of Flavia Zeuxis, a merchant for woven products.

Roman Theatre

The theater of Hierapolis is well-preserved, especially the stage buildings, which were beautifully decorated with reliefs. Constructed around 200 BC, the theater could hold 20,000 spectators and had reserved seating for distinguished spectators in the front row.

Only Rouge could manage to lose her bikini top on top of a mountain, in a Roman theatre!

( It probably fell out when I took her out of the bag for the picture and since it was incredibly windy, was instantly blown away.)


The Sacred Pool is warmed by hot springs and littered with underwater fragments of ancient marble columns. Possibly once associated with the Temple of Apollo, the pool provides today's visitors a rare opportunity to swim with - and in - antiquities!

During the Roman period, columned porticoes surrounded the pool; earthquakes toppled them into the water where they lie today.

Behind the Sacred Pool is the nymphaeum, a partially restored monumental fountain that distributed water to the city, and next to it, what remains of the Temple of Apollo.

South of the temple is the Plutonium, a sacred cave believed to be an entrance to the underworld, the domain of the Roman god Pluto (the Greek Hades). The cave emitted poisonous vapors in ancient times, and still does! For this reason, the entrance is sealed off. According to the Greek geographer Strabo, the priests of Cybele were able to enter the sacred chamber safely, but animals who entered it died (Geography 13.4.14).

This sign gives you an overview of the area. The white parts in front are Pamukkale. Behind that, you have the ruins of Hierapolis with the necropolis on the left and the theater on the right.

Long before you arrive in Hierapolis, you can see the gleaming white travertine terraces of Pamukkale, located next to the ruins. 

The extraordinary effect is created when water from the hot springs loses carbon dioxide as it flows down the slopes, leaving deposits of limestone. The layers of white calcium carbonate, built up in steps on the plateau, gave the site the name Pamukkale ("cotton castle").

Unfortunately, a thunderstorm came up while we were still walking around the travertine terraces. It rained cats, dogs and elephants, so our stay was shortened a bit. Pity, I would have liked to see more - especially since there was such a lot more to see.


Once everyone had gathered in the buses again, we were taken to the village nearby, where our hotel was.

It had a hotsprings pool, with bathtub-warm water both in- and outdoors. Unfortunately, neither Rouge nor I could use it: Rouge had lost her bikini top and I had caught an evil sunburn and just could not stand going into the warm water (I tried).

I´m not sure if it is on purpose, but that thing reminds me of an omphalos - an ancient type of religious artefact that would be fitting here, close to a former temple of Apollo.

That evening, a bellydancer performed in the hotel, but it was a bit tacky-touristy.

A view of the village before we left for Belek again. This picture is rather generic, it might just as well have been taken in Belek or in one of the more modern areas of Antalya.

On our way back, we made another stop near Tavas - the largest carpet center of Turkey, deep in a pine forest, where we visited a carpet factory.

We were shown how silk is made, spun and dyed and how the carpets are woven, learned that the quality is determined by the number of knots per m2, that many of the patterns are regional and traditional. It was very interesting, and afterwards, we were given a Turkish mokka, which was nice as well.

Then came the not so nice part when our group was split up, salespersons attached themselves to each one or two of us, showed us around the store part and tried to talk us into buying a carpet. They were a bit insistent, but we successfully managed to resist.


Back home again, we set up an oriental display with our holiday souvenirs.

The carpets on the wall and floor are small versions of actual popular carpet designs. The pillows are stuffed purses, and the design of the room was mainly inspired by the Kaleici museum in Antalya.

There´s a souvenir glass with blue eyes on the far left. Next to Barbie as Jeannie there´s a small wooden kopuz (string lute), and at her feet is a lucky bag of lavender that was a present at a dear friend´s wedding. A baglama (leather covered string lute, derived from the kopuz), also made of wood, is in the far right corner.

The hookah is a coffee pot and the low table is actually a plate we picksmall ceramic ed up, sat on the stand that came with the amphora in the corner. On the table is a plate in the style that we saw a lot in Antalya, with some fruit on it. The other plates with fruit are fridge magnets I found at one of the souvenir stalls in our hotel.

Valerie is wearing the Turkish outfit from the "Discover the World with Barbie" series. It is based on women´s wear from the ottoman period.

Kisara wears the Moroccan outfit from the same series.

Mitsuki´s and Kaori´s outfits are borrowed from Barbie. These three outfits - as well as Jeannie´s - are obviously based on the traditional Western idea of a belly dancer (or genie) outfit, which is what the souvenir stores in Turkey cater to as well.

This costume is called bedlah in Arabic (meaning "uniform") and was adopted by dancers in Egypt in the 1930s, from where it spread to other countries in the region. It owes its creation to the harem fantasy productions of Vaudeville, Burlesque and Hollywood during the turn of the last century, rather than to actual authentic Middle Eastern dress.

An enterprising night club owner in Cairo named Badia Masabni is credited with the adoption of this costume due to the fact that this was the image that Western tourists came to expect, rather than the native costumes which covered and concealed the contours of the body, with only a scarf or belt tied around the hips to highlight the movements. The mainstays of costuming for these styles include a fitted top or bra (usually with fringe of beads or coins), a fitted hip belt (again with a fringe of beads or coins), and leg coverings that include harem pants and/or skirts (straight, layered, circular, or paneled). If you want to know more. check out: