The Incredible Terraced Chalk Ponds of Pamukkale
What looks like a winter wonderland is actually a summer landscape with hot springs, crusted with calcium deposits. Pamukkale, in south western Turkey, is a natural mineral-bath spa first built by the Romans around a sacred hot spring and still open to the public as the Sacred Pool today. Let’s find out more about this natural phenomenon and see some stunning pictures.
How can this not be a winter wonderland?
What exactly happens at Pamukkale? The calcium-laden water from natural hot springs cascades over a cliff and forms the incredible white terraces that look like they’re decorated with stalactites. They are travertines, actually, calcium deposits frozen in stone as the water cools in the open and the calcium separates and attaches to the soil.
Image: Patrick-Emil Zörner
The hot springs are said to be more than 2,000 years old and the Romans first built the spa city at Hierapolis, capitalising on the natural beauty and the hot springs’ health benefits. A visitor to Pamukkale in 1967 remembers the springs:
“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 calcium.”
Soon, word of Pamukkale’s beauty spread and the number of visitors increased: They came by car, bus and taxi; first from neighboring cities, then from further away and even abroad. The village at the foot of the “cotton castle” (Pamukkale’s translation from Turkish) turned into a proper town in no time, with tea and snack stalls, restaurants, hotels and motels to accommodate the growing number of overnight visitors.
The town of Pamukkale at the foot of the hot springs today:
Image: Michael Frey
Unfortunately, as is often the case, too much attention is not always a good thing. The only road connecting the hot springs with the world ended right next to them, causing a lot of pollution. People even rode bikes and motorbikes up and down the slopes. Hot water from the springs was used to fill hotel pools and waste water collected in the springs’ pools, turning them brownish. Some visitors walked around in the springs with their shoes on and others mistook them for private bathtubs and washed themselves in them with soap and shampoo. Soon, Pamukkale lost its glory and attracted fewer visitors.
The hot springs of Pamukkale:
Image: Mila Zinkova
This was Pamukkale’s unprotected state until the Pamukkale-Hierapolis area was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988. In the 1990s, local authorities undertook a development project that restricted access to the site and imposed restrictions on visitors. Though some of the measures might not be ideal – the drop-off point is quite far from the springs and no transport is provided – at least efforts are being made to protect this unique site and to restore its former glory. Pamukkale is still very much worth a trip.
Pamukkale boasts many Roman ruins, here the amphitheatre:
Image: Joonas Plaan
More structured fun today:
Image: Ivar Abrahamsen
Sunset over the Pamukkale terraces:
Image: Wolfgang Beyer