Chalk white pools, brimming with clear turquoise water. Hundreds of pools; big ones, small ones, all oddly shaped; sprouting like fungi all over the hillside. You can see the geological oddity that is Pamukkale from miles away; the bright white travertine cliffs stand out like a spill of white paint on a patchwork quilt.
It looks unnatural; like a quarry on steroids, or some kind of terrible industrial accident. But it is, in fact, one hundred per cent natural.
Hot springs are the culprit. Seventeen of them, in close proximity, spewing out calcium-carbonate-loaded water all over the place, which deposits and builds and shapes and moulds and eventually turns into these beguiling travertine dams.
The Romans, those lovers of baths from days of yore, were smitten with Pamukkale. They acquired the site in 133 BCE – it had been passed around between the Phrygians, the Seleucids, and the Attalids prior to this – and turned Hierapolis, the settlement adjacent to Pamukkale, into a grand Roman city.
They even gave the site the status of neocoros, giving it the right of sanctuary. People have been travelling here from far and wide, to avail themselves of the purported medical benefits of Pamukkale’s hot springs, ever since.
Until not all that long ago tourists were allowed to bathe directly within the turquoise travertine pools. Hotels were built here, there, and everywhere, and began pumping spring water away for their own uses.
There was even a trafficable road constructed through the centre of the site. Eventually there were just too many tourists, and their free rein over Pamukkale came to an end.
Tourists can still bathe in the travertine terraces, but they may only enter the shallow, semi-artificial dams created along the alignment of the old road.
The water in these pools is milky white, rather than turquoise, and it is only knee deep. But that doesn’t mean that bathing here isn’t a treat.
It is. Or it can be, if you are able to find a pool that isn’t already overflowing with tourists.
Practical information and how to reach Pamukkale:
Pamukkale is 20 km from the city of Denizli. There are plenty of long-distance buses that stop in Denizli. The city also has its own airport (Cardak Airport) with flights to major cities within Turkey. From Denizli there are minibuses that run to Pamukkale. More transport info here.
Read more on Pamukkale in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.
More on Turkey:
Edirne – former capital of the Ottomans + UNESCO listed mosque