Travertines of Pammukale
We left the Aegean coast of Turkey behind us this morning and headed inland towards the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis and the white terraced hillsides of Pamukkale. One of Turkey’s most iconic landscapes, the travertines of Pamukkale are one of the natural wonders that drew us here.
Pamukkale literally means “cotton castles” in Turkish, an apt description for the white terraces that formed there over the past 1.4 million years. Pamukkale’s terraces are made of travertine, a form of limestone deposited by water from the mineral-rich thermal springs that bubble up through the ground all over the hillside. The entire area around Pamukkale is volcanic and highly geothermally active (we passed a number of geothermal power plants on our way up to Pamukkale where this heat is being used to generate electricity for towns and villages in the area).
The water that emerges from the hot springs contains a large amount of dissolved calcium carbonate. Over the millennia, as this water trickled down the hillside and pooled, some of this calcium carbonate was deposited onto the rocks below, forming the travertines we see today. When the water collects it forms these incredible turquoise blue pools that are just stunning, especially against the white background of the travertines.
The calcium carbonate deposits are stark white but discolour and turn brown if left to dry and/or dirtied by human traffic. Unfortunately we saw lots of dry, broken, trampled and discoloured travertines today as much of the water from the thermal springs is being siphoned away to provide hot water for the many “spa hotels” that have been built in the town below. Only a few travertines still contain flowing water, and even these are being damaged by the hundreds of thousands of tourists they allow to walk on, and swim in, the pools. We chose not to walk on the calcium carbonate terraces as it seems almost sacrilegious to leave grubby footprints all over those incredible geological formations and worsen the existing damage. It seems to be an ongoing struggle in just about every country we’ve visited: how to court the tourist dollar and attract visitors to a site, whilst at the same time protecting the very thing they’re all flocking to see. From our perspective it seems the travertines of Pamukkale need a little more protection, lest there be nothing left for future generations but a few dirty lumps of rock.
Not that tourism is a new thing in Pamukkale; people have been visiting the area and bathing in the thermal pools for thousands of years. Around the travertines are the ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman city Hierapolis, which grew around the thermal pools and was a centre of healing and relaxation from about 600BC to 300AD. The healing centre of Hierapolis was famous and was reportedly visited by numerous Roman emperors.
To keep its 70,000 inhabitants and all the visiting tourists entertained the city had a sizeable amphitheatre that could accommodate 10,000. The amphitheatre has been fully excavated and restored and is in such good condition that they still use it for concerts and theatrical performances during summer.
We had a great day exploring Pamukkale and Hierapolis and are really grateful to have been able to see this wonder of the natural world whilst its still somewhat unspoilt. The incredible diversity of landscapes and natural beauty in Turkey has taken us a bit by surprise – with its incredibly high mountains, flat dry plains, vast olive groves, thermal hot springs and stunning coastline scenery, Turkey sure is pretty!