Pamukkale, the Cotton Castle (Part 1)

Turkey > Pamukkale

February 2013

The ancient Greco-Roman city, Hierapolis of Phrygia, was founded in the 2nd century BC, solely because of the existence of the extensive therapeutic spa of Pamukkale, or the Cotton Castle. The mineral-laden water from the spa cascaded some 100m down the hill slope for thousand of years, depositing a huge amount of calcite along the way, some 2.5km long north-south. Hierapolis then became a well-known spa centre for people to recuperate and rest, and medical tourism bloomed.

And this is how it looks from Denizli, some 20km away — a patch of whiteness on the side of the hills.

Just before reaching the white calcite area or travertine terraces — Pammukale or ‘Cotton Castle’ — there’s the Antique Pool complex worth seeing.

This is where the spa water comes out via numerous underground springs, and for many thousands of years was patronised by humans as a remedy for various ailments.

Looks pretty impressive, radioactive some more. For thousands of years, people have been coming to this exact spot to soak in the therapeutic water. Many came to Hierapolis to find cure for illnesses and maybe to retire here, but many also died as attested by the two large necropolises.

This is the main pool, but being winter now, nobody dares to go in, even though the water temperature is said to be a pleasant 35°C.

There was a big quake in 7th c. AD, and these pillars fell into the spa water, to be left there undisturbed.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site indeed, and yes, you can swim or dive among these submerged Roman ruins, for a fee. How cool could that be?

This is the deepest part of the system where the water comes bubbling out of the ground. Said to be heated by magma, the water passes through mineral-rich earth. The water is deep, and it looks like a flooded subterranean cave down there — no swimming here.

There’s a pump for visitors to draw some water to drink or to take home. I gulp a mouthful, wow! … hot and salty, but tastes better than ‘air zamzam’.

I start to notice cats all over the place, independent free-ranging cats. Generally they look good, well-fed and are friendly. I think the Turkish people look after these critters.

After the encounter with the holy water and cats of Hierapolis, we stroll over to a shaded area, which looks very promising.

Shoes, parked orderly around trees? Hmmm … this better be interesting.

There you go — the world famous Cotton Castle of Pamukkale (actually Pamukkale means ‘Cotton Castle’ in Turkish) — white travertine terraces formed over thousands of years, by the minerals deposited by the spa water which slowly flows 100m downhill to the fertile valley below.

The whole complex is now totally protected, and visitors are allowed to tread on this precious miracle formation only within a designated area. You stray out, and security would come after you.

It’s a fantastic view — greenish-blue pools, white terraces, small town, green valley, sun rays, hills, snow-capped mountains.

This is the only portion of Pamukkale open to the public. You can in fact walk all the way down to town below using the path on the left. Just be careful since its quite slippery, and barefoot only.

People just stand in the warm pool while soaking in the ambience and the great view. Mind you, the temperature today is just above freezing, made worse by the winds.

And yes, you just have to find the best angle, no compromise … and they become my subjects.

Looking uphill, I can imagine mineral-laden water seeping out of the rocks, thus forming this very old (now dry) travertine over a very long time. Nowadays they control the water flow by building a network of drains and locks. It’s not as natural as it used to be.

Our footwear removed, and we are finally ready to brave the cold and the wind.

We walk gingerly across the wet, slippery travertine. It’s warm, and as we head for the pool, the water better be as hot as promised.

At last we are in the pool proper. It’s not too bad, though it’s very cold, especially with the winds. Our feet are warm and very happy in the 35°C wonder water of Hierapolis. At the back, note the old travertine I mentioned before and of course, the ruins of Hierapolis.

The water is comfortably warm, and the surface of the travertine is quite slippery as my feet try to get a good grip, so one needs to be very careful.

The winds get gustier … we should get out soon.





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