When planning our trip to Turkey, Pamukkale was one site we did not want to miss. Along with the likes of Cappadocia’s cave homes and the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, Pamukkale (meaning “Cotton Castle”) is a must see during any visit to Turkey. There really is nothing else quite like it in the world.
Unfortunately, deciding to visit in December, our timing was a bit off – or on, depending how you look at it. As it was the off-season, we didn’t have to battle large groups of visitors. In fact, at one point were were two of only four total people on the travertines. However, because of the unique process that occurs during the creation of the travertines (the sediments in the water etc…) visitors are prohibited from walking on the travertines and in the pools with shoes on. Even clean sandals aren’t allowed. As a result, we found ourselves rolling up our jeans and removing our warm shoes and socks at the base of the hillside in December. It was very, very cold, an attribute evident by the redness of our poor frozen toes.
Although the rushing water starts off very warm, the hotsprings that supply the travertines with water range in temperature from 35 to 100 degrees celcius, it cools quite rapidly as it flows downhill – especially in December. In some areas, where the water pools and sits for a while, it becomes very cold and even freezes – something we learned the hard way. It’s a fun game to guess where the nice warm water will be, and we had a great time watching each other test out possible routes.
Fortunately, while our feet were freezing at some points in the climb, the travertine itself is quite gentle to walk on, and not nearly as slippery as it looks. As we made our way up the hillside, the water feeding the pools became warmer and warmer, until we reached the top where the pools were warm enough to swim in (although we only saw one person partaking in a dip on this particular day). Steam rose off the water as we warmed our grateful feet and legs in the bright blue water. But our visit to the site wasn’t done yet.
Perhaps the one thing that makes Pamukkale unrivaled by similar sites around the world are the acres of Roman ruins that cover the hillside surrounding it. Although the travertines would be enough to entice visitors from around the world on their own, it doesn’t hurt that the Roman city of Hierapolis once stood in all its grandeur right at the top.
Hierapolis was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire, receiving frequent Imperial visits which only helped to raise its stature and importance. Dating back to the 2nd Century AD, Hierapolis was initially a spa town, but it later became a major medical centre as it was believed that the underground thermal springs had incredible healing properties. Home to 100,000 people at its height, the city was also a major centre for arts and philosophy, and stayed so under the Byzantines until its destruction by the Persian army in the 7th century AD. The city survived in some part until the 12th and 13th centuries, when the damage caused by sackings and earthquakes rendered the city unlivable and it was abandoned and forgotten until its rediscovery in 1887.
Today, visitors can still walk through the crumbled remains of this once great city. With a large theater still fairly intact, as well as impressive bath houses and a necropolis, it’s possible to get a feeling for just how large the city would have been. Unfortunately during our visit, the blue sky and sunshine of just 24 hours earlier was replaced with angry grey clouds and fat raindrops, making wandering around the ruins a little less comfortable. Nonetheless, we still made an effort to do the site justice, wandering through fields strewn with ruins and taking shelter under the odd tree.
Making our way back to the travertine pools, it was time to wander back down the travertine hillside in our bare feet. As we again exposed our feet to the cold, we noticed that the hillside was empty, it seemed that no one else was as crazy as us. And then it started snowing. slowly at first, but then a little harder. Large, perfect snowflakes floated down all around us, making our experience all the more magical. We took turns posing for pictures and catching snowflakes on our tongues, but eventually it was time to make the cold journey back down the hill.
When we finally reached the bottom, our feet were once again freezing. Even putting our socks and shoes back did little to help. We met a young Chinese man at the bottom psyching himself up to make the trek to the top, and we dutifully passed on our advice on where to walk to avoid too painful an ascent. Feeling ecstatic with how our day went we gingerly made our way back to our toasty room and under the covers to warm up.
Walking up Pamukkale was one of the most fun and enjoyable moments of our trip. With the silty sand squishing between our frozen toes, and our eyes trying to take in every spectacular view, we didn’t feel like tourists visiting a world famous attraction but instead like kids heading outside after the first snowfall of the year. It was SO much fun!
Logistics: The city of Pamukkale is about 20 minutes by Dolmus from Denizli, which can be easily reached by bus from a number of cities throughout Turkey. The majority of the buses belong to the Pamukkale Bus Company, and our ride from Antalya cost about $15 per person. The bus was very comfortable (as is the norm in Turkey) and included drinks and personal TV screens. The dolmus from Denizli costs about $2 per person and drops you off somewhere in the small town. I’m sure someone will try to scoop you up in their car and “help” you get to your hotel. They will probably try to get you to buy something or take their tour, but they seemed to be pretty harmless. Entrance to the Travertines and Hierapolis costs 20TL per person.