Pamukkale: the cotton mountain

Pamukkale is a World Heritage Site for having in the same place a unique geological phenomenon and the ruins of the Roman city of Hierapolis.

Located between Antalya and Smyrna, near Denizli, Pamukkale is definitely worth a visit and all because of its mountain. After visiting Sirince, I got on the train to Denizle and from there by van which took me to my destination. I arrived close to sunset.

The aggressive white of Pamukkale

The mountain is aggressively white, as if covered by a blizzard. Pamukkale – the name of the hill and the village – is the Turkish word for cotton castle. Rarely have I seen a name so well put. The whiteness is the result of the hot springs at the top, of limestone waters that slowly descend the hillside depositing sediment along the way and forming travertine marble.

Now a World Heritage Site, Pamukkale has lost much of its charm due to the pressure of tourism and the natural shell-shaped pools that continue to make the promotional posters are no longer filled with water, diverted to a ramp that climbs the hillside on a gentle slope and where rectangular artificial terraced pools have been built. More than the natural phenomenon, Pamukkale is worth more for the city of Hierapolis that the Romans built on top of the mountain.

After a first exploratory climb in the late afternoon to take advantage of the sunset to take some photos, we return to the hotel for a frugal meal on the terrace. The hot springs and the Roman city at the top are worth further exploration. I go to bed early and rise early, not for the sake of health, but to enjoy the best light of the day.

My Pamukkale experience

The effort pays off. I am one of the first to pass the ticket office and have the cotton mountain almost to myself. I take my shoes off – as is obligatory – and put my t-shirt in my backpack. Only with my swimming costume I climb the slope, feeling the warm water and the clay texture of the limestone sediment on my feet. On the trunk, the caress of the morning sun. I delight in the cascade of warm water falling on my shoulders, but I stay less time than I had planned in the pools. The constant flow of people that is starting to make itself felt takes my breath away. I climb the hill and I am in Hierapolis with its baths, its theatre and the huge necropolis.

Before letting history embrace me, I go to the complex known as Termas Antigas, which, though not old, is already obsolete. The thermal waters are still being used in a structure without any kind of fun and where some of the pools are empty. I decide not to try it and opt for a pedicure treatment made by… fish. It is 20 minutes of small tickles on the feet made by fish that feed on dead skin and that in their habitat help in the treatment of psoriasis, but here, because of the difference in water, they only serve as cosmetic aids. I could have tried it in Portugal, but doing so looking at the Roman theatre of Hierapolis has another charm.

Hierapolis ruins

It got late in the morning and I strolled through the ruins of the city under an inclement sun. What impressed me most was the necropolis. Immense and still with many tombs. The Romans – at least those with the means to do so – built vaults, but the tombs were placed on top and the large structures follow each other for hundreds of metres. In the area closest to the hot springs, they really lost the war against nature, being half-buried by the hard snow-white layer of limestone sediments deposited over hundreds of years.

This is the largest necropolis in Anatolia. The city of Hierapolis was founded in the 2nd century BC and became part of the Roman Empire almost 200 years later. The thermal waters and the geological phenomenon that occurs here were fundamental for the construction of the urb, of which the amphitheatre is still today one of the most impressive points.

Of course, we can reach Pamukkale by excursion, but the site asks us to tour it calmly. I opted for a day and a half for my stay near the cotton castle and I think it was the best option.

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