Pamukkale, “cotton castles”, was the highlight of our year’s sightseeing. This incredible natural formation is in south west Turkey, 3 hours from the coast along some of the nicest freeways I’ve had the pleasure of driving in Turkey, Greece or Albania.
A hot spring delivers 400 litres of water a second, at 36 to 38 degrees centigrade. The water is highly calcified and flows from the top of the hill, leaving amazing deposits of minerals that harden into dazzling white travertine pools.
Some early abuse of the travertines destroyed some of the pools, which have now been rebuilt. These few man-made pools do not distract from the awe of the natural travertine terraces and stalactites.
On top of all this natural beauty are the ruins of Hierapolis, an ancient Roman city that became Christian and then fell to the Persians before a great earthquake toppled the city in the 14th century. Excavated in the late 19th century, it is only recently that restoration work has commenced (2008).
Our day at Pamukkale was perfect. The weather was warm but not overly hot, and the summer crowds had abated as it was late October. You have to take off your shoes to walk from the bottom of the hill to the top, enjoying the feel of the soft un-set calcium jelly between your toes.
The older travertines are well hardened, with the most intricate ripples and whorls. There are small patterns and grand patterns; and every size of pool and frozen calcium waterfall imaginable.
The ruins were just as amazing – a lovely museum of sarcophagi stands at the top, or you can wander the extensive ruined builders and old pillars. My favourite was the Pool of the Ancients, where we swam (for a fee) in hot spring water amongst century old ruins.
Unique, fabulous, inspiring, must-visit – Pamukkale is one of the few places where you can use the word awesome and really mean it.