If you are ever blindfolded and taken to Pamukkale, the first thing that will occur to you when you set eyes on the dazzlingly white scenery from afar, is that you have been taken to some cold, northern country. But don’t rush to put your snow-shoes on, because you won’t need them. You will soon find you are in the hot heart of the Anatolia and the rocky formations resembling giant fluffy cotton balls are so warm you can easily sunbathe on their surface in your swimsuit.
The name of Pamukkale, meaning “Cotton Castle”, is a coinage of national folklore, rather than a logical explanation of the natural phenomenon. The locals might tell you stories about ancient giants drying their cotton harvest on the steep hill slopes and the shallow terrace-like formations, yet, you won’t find any cotton fields in the region. Instead, scarlet oleanders picturesquely stand out
Against the sparking white background. The explanation is quite simple: Pamukkale is a massif of rocks formed in the course of millennia by highly calcareous water, which continues to cascade down the slopes from the mineral springs situated on the surface of the hills. Rich in calcium bi-carbonate and other minerals, the running water deposits chalk onto the hills, creating the illusion that it has petrified in various shapes along its way. This ceaseless process has resulted in the formation of natural limestone and travertine terraces, steep walls and stalactites spreading over an area 0.5 km (0.3 miles) wide, and 2.5 km, or 1.6 miles, long. The thermal waters maintain a constant temperature of 35°C, or 95°F, and if you drop an object in, it will only be a matter of a few days before it turns to stone.
You are not in danger of petrifying if you get into one of the mineral springs, unless, of course, you overindulge. Instead, you will notice little bubbles forming around you after a minute, with your skin becoming slightly rosy after a couple more. Balneologists claim that a dip in the Pamukkale mineral springs instantly improves the blood circulation, and regular procedures can have a healing effect on patients with kidney or neurological problems, skin and heart conditions, rheumatism and high blood pressure. After conducting an analysis of the water, specialists demonstrated that it contains many beneficial substances – and that despite its notorious tang, drinking it has a therapeutic effect on people with kidney problems. It seems the only thing Pamukkale’s highly mineralised water does not have a favourable effect on is people’s hair – and it is famous for leaving the hair looking messy and clotted after a wash. But even the latter did not stop Cleopatra from regularly visiting the area to bathe and maintain her beauty, according to local legends. Historians left accounts which lead us to believe that – due to the medicinal properties of its waters, the “Cotton Castle” was considered the ‘pearl’ of spa tourism by the ancient Greeks and the Roman emperors. In 190 BC, Eumenes II – king of the Greek town of Pergamum situated near the western coast of Turkey – built a town on the site of the springs. Later Hierapolis was incorporated in the Roman Empire and gained popularity as a balneological resort, particularly popular with Roman emperors. The earthquake in 60 AD, which destroyed Hierapolis, did not stop it from flourishing either. The Romans re-built the town and made it larger, with wider streets, public baths and houses supplied with hot water. From a modern perspective, it would not be an exaggeration to say that with the Romans Hierapolis enjoyed the status of a five-star spa resort.
A number of historical artifacts from the Roman town’s glory days survive to this day: The St. Philip Martyrium, The Temple of Apollo, The Gate of Domitian, The Necropolis. Part of the public baths has been turned into a museum housing a collection of statues, jewellery and medical instruments. The baths consisted of three different chambers with grading temperature, which the ancient people used consecutively to bathe in. The most intact building that has survived today is the Roman Theatre with 10,000 seats, whose statues, sculptures and bas-reliefs are among the best-preserved theatre ornaments in Turkey.