Has anyone visited Pamukkale recently? For those who haven’t been there or read about it, this World Hertitage Site in the Central Aegean Region of Turkey (close to the town of Denizli) has attracted tourists for more than two thousand years. The Romans built a spa city, Hierapolis, at the top of the travertines and the remains are well worth a visit, too.
Tectonic movements that took place in the fault depression of the Menderes river basin generated frequent earthquakes, resulting in a large of a number of very hot springs. The water from one of these springs, with its large mineral content - calcium in particular - created Pamukkale. Every second 250 liters of hot water arises from this spring, precipitating just over half a kilo of chalk. In the course of time some sources dried up because of earthquakes, while new ones rose up in the vicinity
The effect of this natural phenomenon left thick, gleaming white layers of limestone cascading down the mountain slope resembling a frozen waterfall. The word Pamukkale translates as ‘Cotton Castle’. Some of these formations consist of crescent shell-like travertine terraces with a shallow layer of water, lying in a step-like arrangement down the slope, with stalactites feet propping them up.
Before the World Heritage designation, Pamukkale went unprotected for decades in the late 20th century and several hotels were built on top of the site. Hot water from the springs was taken to fill the hotel pools and the waste water was spilled over the monument itself, turning it a brownish colour. A tarmac road ramp was built into the main part. People walked around with shoes, washed themselves with soap and shampoo in the pools and rode bikes and motorbikes up and down the slopes. Appalling!
What had been created through millennia was seriously damaged in a couple of decades. In many areas the whiteness had dimmed to a grayish-brown and steps had to be taken to reverse this destruction. Hotels were demolished and the water flow strictly rotated in order to preserve the site and to allow the diminished calcium deposits to ‘regrow’.
I last visited Pamukkale about 10 years ago and the result of this shortsighted development policy was apparent. Many of the pools were closed to visitors and it looked a shadow of its former self. It was certainly well worth the visit, though to see this peculiar geological phenomenon which looked strangely surreal especially as you approached the mountain from Denizli and an exploration of Hierapolis shouldn’t be missed. The Roman Theatre is in particularly good shape and includes most of the stage buildings with elaborate reliefs and the 46 rows of seats could still hold up to 7,000 spectators (10,000 in its heyday!). Other interesting monuments include the colonnaded street (once almost 1 kilometre long), the Temple of Apollo and the Martyrdom of St. Philip, built in honour of the apostle who was martyred here in 80AD.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who has visited this area in the past couple of years for their views on the Pamukkale regeneration project, in particular.
I sincerely hope the situation will have greatly improved but I suspect it will be some years yet before it mirrors the images which are included on so many Turkish tourism and travel brochures and posters.
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"
Lao-tzy, Chinese Philosopher (604 - 531 BC)