Somewhere deep in the earth
beneath Pamukkale and the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis lies a vast source
of water heated by volcanic lava.
The water dissolves pure white calcium,
becomes saturated with it, and carries
it to the earth's surface, where it
a steep hillside.
Cooling in the open air, the calcium
precipitates from the water, adheres
to the soil, and forms white calcium
"cascades" frozen in stone
The water has been bursting forth
at Hierapolis/Pamukkale for more than
two millennia. The Romans built the
spa city of Hierapolis so citizens
could come and enjoy the health benefits
of the hot mineral water. The beauty
of the travertines was just a bonus.
When I first visited Pamukkale in
1967, the water was still pouring freely
in floods over the cliffs, refreshing
and re-purifying the white travertine
cascades. Shopkeepers put bottles
of local wine into
the channels of hot water, and after
a few days, each
bottle would be completely coated in
pure white calcium. What the wine tasted
like I can't say, but the bottles
were beautiful in their coats of pure white.
travertines in the 1990s
when they were still
alive with running water.
The road from Denizli led right up
the travertine slope to the plateau,
bringing day visitors and overnight
guests by car, minibus, city bus, taxi
and on foot to the Antique Pool and
to larger public swimming pools just
to the south of it.
Simple motels rose on the edge of
the calcium-made plateau to take advantage
of both the hot mineral waters and
the panoramic views of the broad, fertile
valley below. Simple tea gardens opened
to provide resfreshments and a place
to sit in the shade of pine trees and
As the number of visitors—and
especially budget-conscious backpacking
visitors—increased, the tiny
village at the base of the travertines
became a town. Local residents opened
house pensions and simple hotels and
restaurants to host the visitors.
In the 1980s the local authorities
decided to develop the spa in a more
systematic fashion. By the 1990s the
simple motels were razed and the land
on which they had stood became a park.
The road up the slope was converted into a series of pools in which visitors were allowed to walk, splash, play and even soak. New vehicle
entrances were built at the north and
south ends of the plateau. The Roman
baths were converted to a good small
Much of the warm, calcium-rich water that built the travertines has been diverted to other (usually commercial) uses, so today most of the travertine cliffs are dry.
However, the travertines
are still beautiful, the Hierapolis ruins still interesting, the fine theater still an excellent, well-restored example
of Roman architecture, the museum still
good, and a swim in the Antique
Pool still a memorable experience.
Pamukkale may not hold you for more
than one night, but you'll enjoy that
night, and the days on either side
of it. You can even come just for the day, then return to where you came from, or travel on. More...
—by Tom Brosnahan