GUEST ARTICLE: With looks of awe and dropped jaws we stood captivated by the awesome beauty before our eyes – Pammukale. It is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Brilliant white travertine sinter terraces covering a mountainside lay before us. At first it actually looked like we had come upon some kind of winter wonderland but the 30C+ temperature told us otherwise.
Pammukale means ‘Cotton Castle’ in Turkish. Since 1998 it has been declared a World Heritage Site and for that reason it has thankfully been saved. In the 60s four big hotels and a road were built above the terraces. That, coupled with people wearing their shoes and bathing with chemicals in the hot pools resulted in the slow destruction of the terraces. After the heritage site was declared they demolished the hotels and road.
Now, after years of hard work in restoring the site, the once dirty brown colored terraces are now sparkling white. They say it will take years to fully regenerate the whole area to what they once were. To give you an idea of its size the Cotton Castle can be easily seen 20kms away from the hills in the town of Denizli located on the other side of the valley!
After paying a reasonable entry fee we along with a trickle of others happily meandered up the mountainside. At the point where the travertine starts we all had to go barefoot in order to protect the delicate formation. I can’t believe they used to let people tramp all over these with dirty shoes on!? And in actuality I can’t believe we’re allowed to walk on it at all!
As soon as my tender tootsies touched what looked at first to be a soft smooth buttery surface they got the loofah of their lives. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t like walking on gravel but lets just say looks can be deceiving. The travertine over the years has formed these delicate looking sharp hard ridges. Overall the texture was like walking on sandstone but there were also some slippery spots so you really had to watch your footing.
Constant small streams from the calcareous hot springs from above gently lapped over our feet. Near the bottom the water actually felt icy cool but warmed up the closer we got to the top. There was a good path to walk up but the higher we got the steeper the smooth cliffs got. It almost looked like you could slide down the sleek white surface but in reality you’d probably just leave one nasty red streak.
Along the trail there were small brilliant pale blue pools that looked like they’d been meticulously carved out with streamlined sides and ridging. The pools nearest to the bottom were pretty chilly (even in the summer heat) but the pool at the top was nice and warm since it got first dibs from the hot springs.
As we neared the top the tourist crowd became much thicker. After having climbed up we now knew why. We didn’t think it was that hard of a climb but it was hard on the feet and I can’t imagine it being easy for the elderly and especially not for little kids with the steep cliffs.
We made sure to wear our swimmers and we were glad we did. We had a wonderful dip in one of the shallow pools. They say the water is supposed to have beneficial properties (good for your eyes and skin). Not too many people were doing the same so it wasn’t that crowded thank goodness. The view was surreal up there but the water wasn’t warm enough for us to lounge around for too long, besides we still had a lot of exploring to do.
At the top of the travertine formations is the ancient city of Hierapolis also known as ‘the sacred city.’ In 190BC it was founded as a Thermal Spa and since then it has been used over the years by thousands but I imagine that number must run into the millions by now.
The city was quite large and thankfully there are still some beautiful ruins to look at (thanks to some expert restoration). We walked through the beautiful Fontinus Gate and its grand cobble stone street. Then we slowly made our way through honey colored fields until we reached the Hierapolis Theatre and Apollo Temple. They were under restoration so we didn’t spend too much time there.
On the way back down we stopped in at the Antique Pool, a nice little place where you can swim in the revered hot springs. Unfortunately there were too many people in it for our liking so we decided to give it a miss. It was such a shame because it did look pretty inviting.
Dusk was upon us by the time we started our decent back down the travertine trail. The sun blanketed the Cotton Castle and surrounding valley in a beautiful warm hue. Unfortunately as the sun went down so did the temperature, which made that once refreshing water coming down the mountain not so pleasant. Lets just say we were happy once we made it back down with our feet warm and snug back in the comfort of our shoes.
Our Melrose House hotel was excellent and only a short 10-minute walk from the main attraction. Our room was spacious and really nicely decorated like the rest of the hotel. For dinner we dined in our hotel and had one of the best dinners we’ve had on our Turkey journey. Unbeknownst to us one of the owners was a chef and a fantastic one at that!
Content and with full bellies we decided to walk it off by going for a little explore of the town. Along the way we passed a few discos blasting hardcore techno with the usual strobe lighting. There was hardly anyone in sight except for few chair dancers. I guess they must get pumping later in the night.
We came upon a lovely small lake situated just below the beautifully lit Cotton Castle. Surrounding the tranquil pond were a few lovely restaurants soaking up the ambience. A man was renting out a few paddleboats so we ended up taking a giant lit neon Swan for a spin!!
Every now and again we could hear a Turkish Ice Cream man trying a rather funny and unique selling technique by screaming at the top of his lungs “ICE CREEAAM! ICE CREEAAM!” Then he would dip in this metal rod and pull the whole big slab of ice cream out, swinging it around like some mad man. We watched as people lined up eager to buy his ice cream and then each were given an entertaining show with him showing off ice cream disappearing tricks with their cones.
Our visit to Pammukale was short but sweet. We feel very fortunate to have seen it and walked upon the magnificent formations. Without a doubt it deserves its title as one of the Wonders of the World. Its unique beauty is unforgettable.
This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!