Pamukkale: Turkey’s Cotton Castle

Entrance for Travertines and Hierapolis Ruins: TL 25
Use of Antique Pool: TL 32
Bus from Selçuk: TL 30, 3 hours

White travertine pools all around, lush green landscape below, snow-capped mountains behind; and as if all these weren’t enough, Roman ruins on top! What’s not to love about Pamukkale?

Pamukkale Travertine Terraces
The main attraction is where Pamukkale got its name – literally meaning “Cotton Castle.” A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its calcite-laden waters come from hot springs off a 200-meter cliff and have formed a series of petrified waterfalls, stalactites and pool terraces. Its cotton-white color is due to calcium carbonate deposits.

Pamukkale's travertine pools

Pamukkale’s travertine pools

I first caught sight of it from the window of the hotel restaurant, and for a moment it felt like I were having breakfast in Switzerland, with its snow-white mountain surrounded by cypress trees. But even that beautiful preview did not prepare me for the real thing. Standing on top, mouth agape, looking across and down on its dazzling cotton-white surface sprinkled with multiple pool terraces reflecting the blue sky above – I had to take a moment to allow my heart to sigh in amazement. And then I stepped foot on travertine ground and ouch, the ridges are rough against my bare feet! I tried to take comfort in one of the pools but oops… the mud-like mineral deposit is slippery! Wow, this piece of heaven is tougher than its cotton-soft outer appearance has led me to believe.

Pamukkale, Turkey's Cotton Castle

Pamukkale, Turkey’s Cotton Castle

Okay, so this really got me: the Romans and Byzatine empires actually had a spa city! Hierapolis is a Greco-Roman thermal installation that takes advantage of Pamukkale’s natural hot springs. Today, one can bathe in the Antique Pool (on a separate ticket) like the Romans did in their many baths, and enjoy its health benefits: good for those with heart diseases, atherosclerosis, blood pressure, rheumatism, eye and skin diseases, rickets, nervous disorders, nervous and physical exhaustion circulatory problems.

Hierapolis Antique Pool

Bathe in this Antique Pool like the Romans did, for an additional TL 32

Unlike the more compact Ephesus ruins, Hierapolis covers a greater area and involves some uphill walk. The view from the top of the 12,000-seater theatre ruins is worth the hike, though, including the theatre itself, with its surprisingly still-standing and intact façade.

HIerapolis, Turkey

Ruins of Hierapolis Theatre

Most people opt to do this as a day trip from Selçuk or Kusadasi, especially as Pamukkale is a very small town. Staying a night, however, has its advantages:

  • You get to choose the time at which to visit the travertines, avoiding the bussed-in tourists (mostly between 12-3pm). Best time would be early morning or late afternoon.
  • There is ample time to explore Hierapolis, the Roman ruins above the travertines (covered by the ticket as well); and enjoy a swim at the Antique Pool / Cleopatra’s
    Pool / Sacred Pool if interested (though not worth the TL 32 price tag in my opinion)
  • No need to go back up to the Southern gate (which, ironically, is the one on top), as the town is more easily reached from the gate below
  • Can also do a quick trip to Laodikya, around 10mins through a dolmus, or to Afrodisias

Tips and reminders:

  • Start from the top (Southern gate) via a dolmus or free ride usually offered by hotels for its guests.
  • Everyone is required to go barefoot. Make sure to bring your shoes along so you don’t have to go back up.
  • The hardened minerals can be rough, but some parts are also slippery
  • Bring swimming attire if you intend to take a dip in the travertine pools and/or antique pool; otherwise just bring extra clothes so you don’t go back to town soaking wet. The Antique Pool has changing rooms, but not sure if its free or just for pool users. Bring a towel as well, even the Antique Pool does not provide towels.
  • Again, best time would be early morning or late afternoon.


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