Pamukkale is Turkish for “Cotton Castle” and refers to an otherworldly geological miracle in the heartland of Anatolia, a world-heritage site that is visited by millions of tourists annually. It is a cascading sequence of snow-white calcium-deposit —travertine— hillsides with body-temperature (36C / 96.8F) mineral water streaming through it, forming aquamarine bathing pools in decorative patterns. The therapeutic effects of its bathing has been utilized since Antiquity, with Hierapolis, an ancient “health-spa” built at the top of the hill, and Afrodisias, a sacred town dedicated to Afrodite (the goddess of love and famous health-nut) not far away.
The calcareous travertine, grainy and ever so markedly jagged, is easy to bruise and must be traversed on bare feet so as to minimize its erosion. It is amusing to watch visitors trekking up and down the slopes as if they’re walking barefoot on snow, seeking frequent relief of sore feet with soakings in the hot water of the pools. It takes years of sole-hardening beach-combing to develop the right texture for easy walking of these surfaces.
I first visited Pamukkale some thirty years ago as a tender-foot from Maine, U.S.A., where walking barefoot was possible only a couple of quick months a year. I tried at the time to fully explore the site, but had to give up with feet that screamed at me to stop. Now years later, with every inch of my body and soul hardened by the rigours of life and endless barefoot wanderings, I felt ready to tackle the task anew.
Forced by circumstance to extend my winter in Turkey past its due-date, I decided to add some spice to my adventures with a dose of Pamukkale, even if I had to do it on a low budget. A cheap bus ticket ($17 each way) from Bodrum, brought me to Denizli (the nearest city) in four and a half hours. I was met at the terminal by Bayram, manager of Artemis Yoruk Hotel, who drove me to his lovely and affordable place with its excellent breakfast included in the price, its next-door-to-the-site location and its swimming pool
that is fed by the same mineral waters at the same temperature as the Travertines, a perfect way to unwind after the arduous explorations of the hillsides and a great way to start one's day. Here is my morning swimming partner Midori, who is from Japan. I give her a big hug each morning because she is so stressed about her country's current problems. We later made prayers together underwater hoping for Japan's speedy recovery.
Just to the right of the pine tree is the computerized gate to enter the site.
It was almost four p.m. by the time I had checked in to the hotel, put on some heavy socks (for better “barefoot” walking) and walked over to the site, which is open twenty-four hours, for my initial salvo into its wonderland. An officious fellow at the gate pointed at a sign announcing a $13 entry fee, that is the same for either a long or short stay. Being from Maine gives a person some disadvantages (like tender feet) but also a lot of street smarts. Refusing to pay so much money for a visit that I felt would have to end at sunset some two hours hence, I walked along the edge of the site, skirting the travertines until I reached the top and an open gate.
I entered —some might think I snuck in, but I fully intended to return the next day and pay my money for a longer visit— and started slowly walking up the hillside, my shoes dangling on my arm, my feet somewhat protected by the heavy socks, and just in awe of the moonscape of this amazing place. I have always found that by taking the route rarely travelled one gets far more unexpected pleasures than that of the usual way. So, I was having too much fun, I guess, and time flew by, sunset came and went, and suddenly I was in the middle of darkness, illuminated only slightly by the occasional lamp-post strategically placed to reflect coloured light onto the pools for the night visitors.
The Face in the Tavertine was found because I strayed off the beaten path. I was amazed how it looked like a mosaic.
Without fresh calcium loaded water the tavertines turn a pink grey.
Trouble was that I was the only person in there —unlike in summer when thousands of people roam the hills— and soon enough had strayed off the path. My only landmark the distant lights of Pamukkale town where my hotel was, which themselves would come in and out of focus as drifting mists from the hot water kept obscuring my vision. I started to walk tentatively towards those lights, singing to myself, often having to detour as the spring rush of water made some pools too deep and dangerous to cross at night since they often led to waterfalls and certain injury, or at least serious damage to my cameras.
Instead of panicking, I used the predicament to take many pictures, and talk myself out of being upset. Because at one point I thought the night-guards who pointed the way out to me were having the biggest laugh yet over sending me the wrong way. After what seemed an eternity, tired but not defeated, I did make it down to the exit, and the guards who knew I hadn’t paid to enter, took pity on my bedraggled appearance and let me get out of there without charge. Naturally, I did return the next day, paid the fee and saw the place during the day, although my night visit despite its mini-panics proved by far the more memorable and provided the more dramatic photographs.
And here's how Pamukkale looks in the daytime:
the super perigee full moon
These photographs were taken during three separate visits to the travertines.I was at the site during the rising of the super perigee full moon. By the end of the third visit my supposedly hardened feet were so sore that I simply had to leave and come home to Bitez. I did however manage to also visit Hierapolis and Afrodisias, which will be the subjects of my next blog. Stay tuned
all photos by Algis Kemezys, 2011