Pamukkale literally means “cotton castle” in Turkish. Take a look at this picture and you’ll see why.
These naturally formed travertines are the result of thousands of years’ worth of calcium deposits left behind from mineral water running down the hillside. Once upon a time, Pamukkale may have been considered one of the most magical places on earth. For centuries, local Turks, and eventually tourists too, flocked here to bathe in these incredible pools filled with steaming hot water from the earth below.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, this cotton castle has been nearly loved to death. The overuse and poor preservation of the pools nearly led to their complete destruction. In the last decade, great efforts have been made to restore the travertines to their original state, but it will take many years for the constructive power of nature to complete the work.
If it weren’t for the dawn arrival of our overnight bus from Cappadocia, we may have been greatly disappointed. All of the travel agencies around Turkey show you pictures of the “old” Pamukkale and conveniently forget to mention that all but a few pools are now closed for restoration. Luckily for us, we were granted entrance to the park at quarter ‘til 7 before most of the staff had even arrived. We were the first visitors in the gate and had the place completely to ourselves, except for a few stray dogs that followed in our footsteps. We began to explore some fantastic pools as we climbed our way up the travertines.
Then, when we had nearly reached the top, we heard someone honking a horn and blowing a whistle. We looked up to see a very displeased security guard waiving us off the hill. Turns out that the area we were climbing in was off limits. They normally have a guard stationed at the bottom instructing you not to climb, but we had arrived so early that he hadn’t reached his post yet. Whoops!
After making our way back to the bottom, we followed a narrow path along some man-made pools. The view of the mountains across the valley was spectacular, but the pools themselves were frankly nothing special. At the end of the trail, however, we ran into another spectacular sight: the ruins of ancient Hierapolis. During Roman times, people found the hot springs of Pamukkale to be so fantastic that it inspired the settlement of Hierapolis, which sits just above the travertine pools where the water springs to the surface.
We spent the remainder of our day hiking around and exploring the ruins of what must have been an enormous and wondrous city. The remnants of Hierapolis spread across a great deal of land and contained some very well restored buildings and monuments. Some of our favorite ruins are pictured below. Pamukkale is best known for the travertines, but for us Hierapolis was the highlight.
All in all, our morning of accidental trespassing and archeological exploration was a great time. While we would not recommend going out of your way to visit Pamukkale (that is, until the restoration work is complete), if you happen to be traveling between Cappadocia and Ephesus, it is certainly worth stopping for half of a day.