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Pamukkale: Turkey’s Most Visited Tourist Attraction

If there were ever one landmark in Turkey that defied belief, it would be Pamukkale, a collection of travertine pools in the Denizli province of Aegean Turkey, that tumble down the face of a hillside as if to resemble a fairy-tale cotton castle, hence its nickname. 

Sitting among the excavated ruins from the ancient city of Hierapolis, that was used by Roman soldiers as a place to rest and recuperate following injuries during battle, Pamukkale was in 2014, the most visited attraction in the country. This is understandable because most international travel guidebooks and Internet sites featuring Turkey, always mention Pamukkale because of its “Wow” factor.
Pamukkale

It future at times was shaky though. In the 70s, most visitors to Turkey were independent hippy backpackers who were content to sit admiring the pools in silence while respecting the power of Mother Nature.

By the 1990’s, Turkey was promoting themselves as a mass package holiday destination, and the crowds soon flocked to see this natural landscape. However, sustainable travel did not exist and locals had no idea of the implications of the mass crowds, instead just seeing another viable source of income for them and their families. 

The seal of tourism was firmly stamped on Pamukkale as local businessmen built hotels near the pools, and noise and pollution interrupted the natural flow of the calcium waters that are the only, pure ingredient forming their mystical appearance. Fortunately, government officials took notice of environmental advisors, and demolished the hotels, while the flow of people was regulated and Pamukkale returned to its natural state. 

As I drove up to Pamukkale, past fields’ rich with soil and heavy with vegetation, I saw what look like a white blanket covering the hillside. Arriving into the large car park, more than 30 large 42-seater coaches were parked up adding weight to the claim that it is Turkeys most visited attraction. 

Once past the gates, the pools of Pamukkale are within the same grounds as the Hierapolis ruins, the museum showcasing ancient Roman sculptures and Cleopatra’s pool where visitors swim over the fallen columns from the ancient city. 

The pools, sitting on the edge of a hill, span a long distance and some are closed off while in others, visitors paddle or in most cases from what I saw, pose for a selfie photograph. Every so often, a security guard would blow their whistle loudly as an eager holiday-maker innocently ignored the signs and walked onto the travertines with their shoes on. 

The average temperature of the water is roughly 33 degrees Celsius, a drop from its original substance as a hot spring. By the time, the water reaches the pools; it becomes a greyish colour reducing the appearance of a white cotton castle. It is said that in summer, such is the warm temperature of the water; a person could bath in the pools for six months before they felt the cold. 
Pamukkale pools
 

The Ancient City of Hierapolis

The various ruins and structural buildings from the ancient city of Hierapolis, sit a short distance away from the travertine pools. Founded in the 2nd century BC and translating to “sacred city,” painstaking excavations started in 1887, revealed Christian churches, the northern baths and the Temple of Apollo. 

The most striking and impressive structure is the large half-circle theatre reached by a small walk uphill. Sitting on the top step is a surreal experience, especially with the knowledge that gladiator and wild animal shows were held within the Roman structure built during the 2nd century AD.

Over the course of history, Hierapolis suffered many setbacks including earthquakes, and epidemic plagues but it was the Mongol invasion of the 12th century that finally marked the beginning of its decline as citizens fled for safety. After the great earthquake of 1219, it was completely abandoned and left for ruins. 
Hierapolis
 

Visiting Pamukkale

Every week, hundreds of coaches travel to Pamukkale from the nearby coastal resorts of Marmaris, Bodrum, Altinkum and Kusadasi. Most of them will return back later in the evening which is a shame since the area has more delights to offer. I stayed overnight in the small and traditional rustic village of Pamukkale that despite the mass of tourists descending on the travertine pools, was actually quiet and devoid of crowds. 

The next morning, I woke up early to start my journey back to the Aegean coast and on the way, stopped by Laodicea, one of the Seven Churches of Revelation. Walking around the ruins only takes an hour and in the afternoon, we reached Aphrodisias that was known as the city of sculptures. 

The Aphrodisias museum, filled with intricate sculptures crafted by some of the best artists from the Roman period is one of the best in the country.  The lost city was discovered purely by accident in 1959, but the museum and its collection of ancient ruins do not receive the credit they deserve. 

It is a shame because they are just a 2-hour drive from Pamukkale, and the millions of people who visit that region every year, are also missing out on another archaeological and historical gem of Turkey. For this reason, I recommend that if you do travel to Turkey’s most visited attraction of Pamukkale, stay overnight and enjoy other attractions in the area that are as equally impressive. 
Cleopatra's pool

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