Turkey – Visit Travertine Terraces of Pamukkale & Hierapolis

Calcium deposits on travertine turquoise terraces at Pamukkale, Turkey

Pamukkale, the ‘cotton castle’ in western Turkey, is close to the ancient spa town of Hierapolis. Which was founded by the kings of Pergamum at the end of the 2nd century BCE. The city contains many well-preserved ruins, including a theater and a necropolis stretching for 2km. On our tours, we traverse the original paving to view up-close the sarcophagi and cenotaphs lining both sides.  Hierapolis later became an important Christian religious epicenter following the emperor Constantine conversion around 330 CE

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Ruins of collonaded street near the Arch of Domitian Hierapolis, Turkey
Ruins of collonaded street near the Arch of Domitian Hierapolis, Turkey
Mausoleum tomb in the necropolis outside Hierapolis, Turkey
Mausoleum tomb in the necropolis outside Hierapolis, Turkey

prohibited. (“paMOOK kalay”) was named for the thermal waters flowing down white travertine terraces on a nearby hillside. Rich in minerals, the terraces formed by this water are a popular tourist attraction. Shoeless, you follow a stream to descend a gentle slope. But bathing in the pools is now prohibited . Overall, access limited to certain paths. This improves the status of the travertine.

We first visited over 20 years ago.

The spring water that once fed the travertine terraces had been diverted to supply hotel pools. This led to a decrease in the flow of thermal water. In addition, the travertine was damaged by pollution from sewage. Mechanical damage from tourists, and littering worsened the problems. As a result, the once white terraces turned grey. The decrease in the flow of thermal water and the negative impacts of human activity combined to diminish the beauty of the travertine terraces. Nowhere near the postcard views.

PAMUKKALE, TURKEY – MAY 27, 2014 – Tourists in bikinis play in the turquoise pools of travertine deposits in Pamukkale, Turkey
PAMUKKALE, TURKEY – MAY 27, 2014 – Tourists in bikinis play in the turquoise pools of travertine deposits in Pamukkale, Turkey

Concerned about the rapid deterioration,

all hotels, pools and shops were removed from the top of the terraces. The Antique Pool (apocryphally visited by Cleopatra) at the visitor center was left; famous for its submerged Roman columns, the aftermath of an earthquake.  Over the past 2 decades we watched as the terraces were reconstructed by adding small, ridged dams to let the minerals precipitate and re-form.  Most of the terraces are no longer accessible; made necessary by large, daily crowds. They’d carelessly destroy the fragile terraces again.

PAMUKKALE, TURKEY – MAY 27, 2014 – Russians and other tourists swim in the thermal pools amidst ancient Roman columns of the spa at Pamukkale Turkey
PAMUKKALE, TURKEY – SEP 17, 2019 – Tourist photograph each other in the travertine turquoise terraced pools at Pamukkale, Turkey

Still, while rating the overall conservation status as “Good with some concerns” 

the  International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has warned that

… high tourist numbers are still an issue which requires careful management for which the current level of staffing is insufficient. There are some concerns about the clarity regarding the responsibilities of different authorities and lack of cooperation between them. There is an urgent need to establish a management unit with representatives from all relevant agencies. There may also be a need to revise the current management plan with integration of social, cultural, economic and natural values at larger landscape level.

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