Pamukkale : Another of Mother Nature's Curious Little Poems

Pamukkale Travel Blog

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Turkey is a country which for me, and I think others too, doesn’t quite hit you with the scale of its geographical spread until one steps out of the bubble of Istanbul and is forced to start to really scrutinise the map of The Rest of The Country.  Travelling through Turkey one is constantly drawn into conversations by those desperately re-jigging and trimming itineraries having realised the truth of the time old travel equation that when The Things One Wishes To Do are set against the finite quantity of Time available the latter will always end in a negative value.  ‘So is such and such worth it?’ ‘Would you say so and so is worth a visit or is it skipable?’ are the constant enquiries of those heading the way you‘ve just come from.

Prash, my pal for the day at Pamukkale.

Pamukkale is one such ‘Do we?  Don’t we?’ destination.  So nipping this one in the bud; I.e. ‘Should you or shouldn’t you?’, I’ll state the case as follows : if you’re heading through the area in one direction or the other (say within a 3-4 hour drive radius) then I would say certainly set aside one evening and one nights stay, out of curiosity, to settle in your own mind what ‘all the fuss is about’.  But if Pamukkale would represent a longish bus ride away from the natural trajectory of your route then you may be mildly disappointed and regretful of not having carried on further, faster the way you were heading.  Wherever you find yourself pondering the ‘Do we, don’t we?‘ question, just try not to get over-excited by the extremely dreamy photographs universally pinned to the walls of tourism agencies, and reproduced in postcards as the days of people being allowed to descend into and step and swim around in the famous ‘mirrors to the heavens’ Travertine calcium pools have necessarily ceased in aid of the long term preservation of the site.

'Melting wedding cake' : the bizarre natural forms of the Pamukkale slopes
  These will not be your photographs to take home.

For my part, Pamukkale is a short experience but one rich in visual interest.  A quick stop to read one of Mother Nature’s curious little poems that she so often chooses to scrawl upon this earth often in the most unlikely of locations.  Here amidst a landscape, beaten to a fine, hazy gold and dusty brown mantle by the constant attentions of the sun, and fringed by likewise arid hillscapes on all sides of the visible panorama, she has come up trumps with quite a contrary little work of art.  On the flanks of one central hill natural spring waters rich in calcium deposits, coursing down the slopes century after century have slowly crafted shelf upon shelf of natural pools formed of snowy-white calcium accretions.

  These pools - to a greater or often lesser extent these days - capture the waters for a time as they flow on down, creating natural baths of warm opalescent waters that offer reflections back to the skies.  The quickest point of visual comparison for me are the water-filled rice terraces observed by myself on this journey in Western China (Yuan Yang) but to be found in many places in the East.  Here the bright sun-bleached whiteness of the Travertines offer a strange contrast to the dry colours of their surrounds, appearing as cliffs and shelves of snow - especially as they soften in tone approaching sunset.  A gigantic, dripping iced wedding cake sat incongruously, melting into an unforgivingly hot Anatolian landscape.  

Shoes off, Prash (my great 24-hour-friend) and I stroll slowly, steady-footedly along the long white calcium causeway that leads the busy procession of tourists up through the calcium baths.

  Wary of slipping at every step, this soon proves unlikely owing to the tiny crenulations of calcium patterns that offer ones feet an excellent grip.  Access to the natural calcium pools is rightly not permitted anymore ( and guards will whistle you quite vehemently should you step out of bounds) but the route through them is accompanied by a good number of large, artificially created basins that permit the significant number of bikini clad and Speedo wearing tourist posers to lounge in watery luxuriance to their hearts content.  Some happy to coat themselves from head to toe in the soft white liquidy clay that sits at the bottom of the pools.

Prash and I are much amused by the extremely humorous swimwear catalogue bordering on porn-star poses that a lot of the ladies (predominantly Russian) set about striking for their cameras.

'Strange Terrain' 2
  Their uninhibited nymph-like flouncing in the waters setting a marked contrast to the presence of indigenous female tourists to the site who are for the most part adorned in head scarves and timorously step about in the shallower pools with their ankle length denim skirts or overcoats dipped below the line of and soaking up the pool waters.  In many ways a sight more beautiful for its quaint modesty than that of the bronzed hordes of beach-bum, day-trip migrants from the Aegean coastline. 

Eventually we slip 'n' grip our way to reach the hill summit.  Sandals back on and glad to escape the overcrowding, over posing of the Travertine pools.  Historically it is the perceived restorative qualities of these waters and pools that aside from the advantages of the hill top elevation led to the establishment over time of the settlements and townships that would culminate in the Roman city of Hierapolis.

:))) Cute!
  Established as an early days Health Spa style centre around 190 BC, the site increased in import and population by the various waves of recent human history, most notably that of the Romans, that washed over its lands before it was abandoned in the 14th Century having been too often reduced to rubble by recurrent earthquake activity in the region.  The ruins of this city now litter the hilltop landscape in a state of gentle, final repose. 

By the time we reach them (long gone 16.00pm) there is hardly anyone around walking amidst the far scattered patches of ruins and the place is largely your our as the sun begins its hot, long drawn out descent.  A further spread of calcium basins, bereft of water by conservation planning and the sun, can be seen here and there are some pleasant manicured walking and seating areas lining the south facing hill crest so that you can sit and take in the impressive views in peace.

Travertine pools atop the slopes of Pamukkale
  Prash and I do so briefly before heading off in a directionless amble through the ruins for a couple of hours. 

The experience of strolling amidst the ruins of Hierapolis for me was marked by a pleasurable difference to the crush and chaos of Ephesus although I confess that my interest was passive at best.  Attention given more to lively conversation with Prash rather than any deep engagement with Roman antiquity.  However what the ruins of Hierapolis lack in a certain grandeur and photogenic tightness of preservation by comparison to Ephesus, they make up for by having been permitted to retain - at this time of day anyway - that certain grace and calm of the grave that should rightly be their lot.  And I appreciate this.  That often mentioned perfect evening gold now washing over the stone piles and broken pillars and platforms, a little life was breathed into their otherwise sad formations.

Stevie and yet more ruins :)
  The wind blown grasses tickled their sides but without eliciting a response. 

At the heart of the complex, as is often the case in such sites, sit’s a rather splendidly preserved Roman theatre which offers Prash and I a perfect seat to rest and take in the views.  With such a landscape encompassed from this vantage point I wonder how the 12,000 strong audiences that once sat here ever managed to drop their eyes to the activities playing out on the stage below.  The only performance today, that of an over enthusiastic tour guide inflicting his seeming limitless knowledge upon a large group of Russian tourists to our right.  Prash and I marvel that they don’t collectively rise to pitch him down the stone seating slope to his death for having talked at them for 20 minutes at least without cease in the unrelenting heat of the evening sun.

The Roman theatre of the city of Hierapolis
  Their frustration is palpable.  Our amusement at their predicament likewise.

It’s been a pleasant way to spend a late afternoon through to a sunset that approaches as we return down through the calcium pools.  I am fascinated in equal measure by the strange and varied micro-landscapes that the calcium ‘wrinkles’ have crafted upon the earths surface and by the watery reflections of happy families with their grinning children now mirrored more crisply in the pool waters for the now gentler attentions of the sun.  Late evening is probably the prettiest time to witness the play of light on the pools, artificial or otherwise, and I would strongly advise that you do not rush to the site immediately upon arrival in Pamukkale for this reason.  Also finally by this time (although by no means fully) the horrible crowds that throng here at midday (despite the heat) will have thinned sufficiently for you to be happy in what you will experience and could make the difference between whether you felt it was a worthwhile stop or not after all.

Prash 'n' Babe in da pools :)
  I for my part am happy to have been here to read one more of Mother Nature’s incidental little poems. 

[ Pamukkale Info : Both the Travertine calcium pools and the ruins of Hierapolis constitute the same site for tourism purposes covered by the same 20TL (£8) entry fee valid for one visit.  Within the site is the original Roman ‘Antique Pool’ available for bathing in for an additional 15TL (£6) until 19.00 although I didn’t do this.  Again, I would recommend no rush in Pamukkale, even within a less than 24hr visit.  Get to your guest house of choice and relax at first.  Many have swimming pools.  I stayed at the Dört Mavsim ( ‘Four Seasons’ ) for 15TL (£6), clean, friendly, nice pool etc.  5TL (£2) for breakfast.

  Then go to the Travertines later in the afternoon timed depending on how much you like walking around ruins ahead of sundown. 

Buses to anywhere you care to think of can be booked that evening easily for onward travel the next morning.  All transport connections will have you first deposited about 10 minutes drive south of Pamukkale at the main Denizli Bus Station, make sure your ticket provider assists you in finding your correct onwards bus or bus platform.  On this point, when you travel to Pamukkale almost all providers will drop you at Denizli, NOT direct in Pamukkale - even if like me you have asked and been assured that this will not be the case.

  As long as you are aware of this likelihood and keep reminding the bus staff that you are, they should put you on a paid Dolmus mini-bus from Denizli to Pamukkale without any fuss upon your arrival at the former.  Stand your ground. ]

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Prash, my pal for the day at Pamuk…
Prash, my pal for the day at Pamu…
Melting wedding cake : the bizar…
'Melting wedding cake' : the biza…
Strange Terrain 2
'Strange Terrain' 2
:))) Cute!
:))) Cute!
Travertine pools atop the slopes o…
Travertine pools atop the slopes …
Stevie and yet more ruins :)
Stevie and yet more ruins :)
The Roman theatre of the city of H…
The Roman theatre of the city of …
Prash n Babe in da pools :)
Prash 'n' Babe in da pools :)
İs it snow?!  No.  The calcium …
'İs it snow?!' No. The calcium…
One of the pools contained within …
One of the pools contained within…
Strange Terrain 1
'Strange Terrain' 1
Theruins of Hierapolis
Theruins of Hierapolis
Roman Theatre (detaıl)
Roman Theatre (detaıl)
Strange Terrain 3
'Strange Terrain' 3
Makes you wanna grab your skies an…
Makes you wanna grab your skies a…
Strange Terrain 4
'Strange Terrain' 4
Husband and wife at sunset
Husband and wife at sunset
photo by: peterbc2