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August 12, 2012

Turkey: Hierapolis-Pamukkale

Colors on Pamukkale’s geothermal terrace

Imagine combining the Roman Forum and Yellowstone National Park’s Mammoth Hot Springs at one place.  Though it seems like a bizarre travel dream perhaps induced by eating one too many chunks of Stilton cheese, a place like this does exist.  HierapolisPamukkale is a collocated UNESCO World Heritage site in Turkey.  In one spot there are extensive Greco-Roman ruins and an impressive geothermal hot spring terrace.

A tomb engulfed in travertine

To get to Pamukkale we traveled from Fethiye by dolmuşDolmuş translates from Turkish as filled.  In the context of transportation a dolmuş means a shared transport.  The name connotes many things; a dolmuş can be a full-sized bus, a mini-bus, or a seat between the fast food wrappers and cigarette butts in the back of somebody’s neighbor’s compact car.  For us, dolmuş meant a bit of everything.  We traveled from Fethiye to Denizli in a comfortable bus.  In Denizli, the three of us along two other travelers were transferred to a European style mini work van squeezing five bodies into four seats for the shorter leg to Pamukkale.  (For this leg, dolmuş definitelymeant filled.)  In Pamukkale the transport company flagged down a delivery van for the transfer from the middle of town to our hotel.  We squeezed in between cases of Efes beer for the short jaunt to our rooms.  Though confusing, the combination of vehicles got us where we wanted to go.

Looking down into Pamukkale’s blue mineral water pools

Pamukkale is a pleasant enough tourist village.  But there’s one thing that confuses me.  I’m baffled that one of Pamukkale’s two sister cities is Las Vegas Nevada.  Sister city or twin town pairs usually share something in common.  For example Eger Hungary, Pamukkale’s other twin, is known for its castle, thermal baths, historic buildings (including the northernmost Turkish minaret), and its red and white wines.  By this description, Eger sounds similar to Pamukkale.  On the other hand, as sister city pairs go, the Las Vegas-Pamukkale twinning seems a coupling of opposites.  Or is it?  The town of Pamukkale-Hierapolis has a large complex of ancient ruins and a massive geothermal wonder; Las Vegas has a fake Roman Forum at Caesar’s Palace and an imitation volcano at The Mirage.  It is a small sliver of similarity between sprawling modern and over-the top hedonistic Las Vegas, where little is old or natural, and the conservative rural Turkish town of Pamukkale where old and natural are the way of life.  But really, is this sliver of similarity enough of a connection for sibling city status?

Pamukkale translates from Turkish as “cotton castle.”  Like a white fortress, Pamukkale’s travertine terrace, stepping down a hillside, is visible from the distance.  Up close Pamukkale looks similar to Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs.

Soothing the feet (left) and adjusting a Roman column (right)

At both Mammoth Hot Springs and Pamukkale millenniums of mineral deposits have formed cascades of bone white ledges on the hill slopes.  Each step of the terrace holds or once held a pool of calcium carbonate saturated water.  Travertine deposits on the outer edge of each pool eventually build high enough to force a shift in the water flow.  The flow shift produces new pools.  Repetition of this cycle produces the multi-stepped terraces visible today.

For eons humans have manipulated Pamukkale’s hot water to create baths and to shape the terrace formations.  Long ago hand-built open channels took the hot mineral water through the Greco-Roman bluff-top town of Hierapolis.  In places, years of calcium carbonate deposits raised these hot spring channels creating curious fence-high travertine troughs that snake through the ruins.  The now dry elevated canals look manmade, kind of, and are in fact manmade, kind of.

A raised travertine water channel in Hierapolis

Nowadays much of the hot water reaches the bluff in small covered canals.  At the edge of the hill, artificial channels and barriers cause the mineral saturated water to form terraces in locations that suit the whims of the modern tourist.  Today, as it has been for centuries, the terrace building is not a completely natural process.  Man has intervened for practical and aesthetic reasons.

Historically, bathing in Pamukkale’s hot mineral water was thought to have curative powers.  The hot springs became a destination and Rome founded Hierapolis above the geothermal terraces in the 2nd Century BC.  As the popularity of the baths grew Hierapolis became wealthy and the city reached 100,000 inhabitants.  Today the ruins of Hierapolis cover an expansive area, the remnants of a once grand city.

The theater Hierapolis

Bathing beauties

Amongst Hierapolis’s many attractions is a large theater.  Situated on a hill slope overlooking the ancient city, the impressive stone amphitheater seats 15,000.  Down the hill are the ruins of the Temple of Apollo.  Between the temple and the amphitheater we found the Plutonium.  Though stating that we “found the Plutonium” on the Internet will undoubtedly will put this blog on a NSA watch list, our discovery is innocent.  The Plutonium is Hierapolis’s sanctuary dedicated to the god Pluto.

Modern visitors can bath in Hierapolis’s waters.  Inside the visitor complex is a hot spring pool complete with fallen and submerged Roman columns.  Under the gaze of hundreds of tourists, bathers can take to the water in a pool once thought to have been visited by Cleopatra and Mark Antony on their honeymoon.

Maybe there is a connection between Pamukkale and Las Vegas after all.  Like Vegas, Pamukkale-Hierapolis has historically been a honeymoon destination.  And it is a safe bet that more than a few couples have checked into a Las Vegas hotel as Cleopatra and Mark Antony, just like in Hierapolis.  After all, every odd thing happens in Vegas.  Perhaps Pamukkale and Las Vegas are twins after all.

A picture set is on Google+.

Beautifying while bathing?

Al roads lead to Rome

Swimming amongst the ruins


  1. Amazing,,, 😉

    Comment by ledrakenoir — August 12, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

  2. Amazing Place for Some R&R!!!

    Comment by cravesadventure — August 12, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

  3. […] with us, many visitors arrive at Aphrodisias from another of Turkey’s celebrated sites, Hierapolis-Pamukkale.  Usually this trip takes about two hours by car.  For us our eventful journey took […]

    Pingback by Turkey: Aphrodisias « Another Header — August 16, 2012 @ 11:56 pm

  4. You have amazing photos 🙂

    Comment by iza dabrowska — November 27, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

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