Pamukkale has been a popular spa since before Roman times, with visitors drawn by the water streaming down walls of white stalactites into hot travertine mineral pools.

In recent times, however, the growing popularity of the travertine pools 250 mi/400 km southwest of Ankara was destroying them: Thousands of visitors covered in suntan oil and sweat were turning Pamukkale's pure white travertines a nasty shade of gray. In the 1990s, the Turkish government banned swimming in the pools.

Even if the pools are a bit of a letdown, it's still worth going to Pamukkale (meaning cotton castle in Turkish) to wander among the spectacular ruins of Hierapolis, the ancient spa center on the hillside above them.

We recommend spending the night in the village below the travertines (Pamukkalekoyu). All the hotels in the area have pools filled with warm, calcium-rich water. Outside Denizli, a fairly bland town to the southwest of Pamukkale, you can visit the ruins of Laodicea (including one of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor).

About 50 mi/80 km to the northwest is Alasehir, site of another of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. Alasehir was founded by Philadelphus of Pergamon, a Greek, in 150 BC. Only portions of an early church and the city wall remain standing.

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