ultramarinus – beyond the sea

COTTON CASTLE, Pamukkale, Denizli, Turkey

2006.05.06

Three hours of bus ride took us from Selcuk to Pamukkale.  Like everyone else, we came to Pamukkale for the spectacular travertine terraces.  As we hopped off the bus, we were immediately approached by bus companies selling us tickets onward from Pamukkale.  Along the path to the pools, we stopped by a small shop for a bowl of spicy Korean noodles.  The first glance of the white travertine pools cascading up the slope under the blue sky was a truly spectacular sight.  Pamukkale in Turkish literally means “cotton castle”.  To many, the otherworldly scenery of the white and reflective travertine pools is one of the two most iconic natural wonders of Turkey (the other being the rock formations of Cappadocia).  The travertine terraces at Pamukkale is made from continuous mineral deposit of hot spring accumulated for thousands of years.  Calcium carbonate from the hot spring is deposited as a soft gel and gradually crystallizes into travertine.  Pamukkale has been a popular tourist attraction for over two thousand years.  Hieropolis, the spa resort town at Pamukkale, was founded in the 2nd century BC and flourished for centuries as a hot spring and healing resort in the Roman and Byzantine Empire.  Today, Pamukkale continues to see large number of visitors from all over the world.

We entered the gate and soon found ourselves arriving at the remarkable travertine area.  Shoes were not allowed, and visitor circulation was restricted to a designated path going uphill to the top.  The only way to truly experience the pools up close was to take off our shoes and hiked up the travertine path in barefoot.  Covered with layers of calcium deposit, walking uphill on the travertine was quite a torture for our feet.  Along the way, we were disappointed to see that most pools had been dried up.  Moreover, this site was just full of visitors jammed one after another on the path.  Unless visiting at 8am during low season, it was next to impossible to enjoy the natural beauty without getting frustrated from overcrowding and misbehaving tourists.  According to the UNESCO, this world heritage is threatened by over-tourism, hotel constructions near the pools, water pollution by bathers, illegal diversion of thermal water, etc.  In recent years, hotels near the pools were removed, vehicular access banned, and pool access for tourists has been restricted, but overcrowding remains as an issue for the management to tackle.

travertine pools 1The sheer scale of the white travertine terraces is quite spectacular.

travertine pools 3We were lucky to have perfect blue sky during our visit.

travertine pools 2The travertine terraces are as white as snow, but as hard as rocks.

travertine pools 4The lower section of the terraces look fairy-tale like from a distance.

travertine pools 5We were disappointed to see many terraces were dried up.

travertine pools 6The scene would be quite different if the hot spring remained flowing down the terraces.

travertine pools 7Other than Pamukkale, similar terraces and pools can be found elsewhere in the world, such as Hierve el Agua in Mexico and Huanglong in China.  Each site has its own unique qualities.

travertine pools 9The weather didn’t look too promising when we reached the top of the terraces.

06ME15-06Before the weather get any worse, we headed over to Hieropolis for a brief visit of the Roman ruins.

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