Monday, 7 April 2014

Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) - Turkey - Ancient ruins and stunning white silica terraces

  The journey between Dalyan and Pamukkale was scenic and varied, winding through tiny villages, up and over a mountain range and onto a highway through some  mighty impressive road works blasted through great cliffs of rock.  Our lunch stop was at a small rural restaurant, Cinaraltina Kahve, where we ate delicious gozlemi and a lip smacking salad made of only tomato, onion, parsley and olive oil with a squeeze of lemon juice.  I don't know why this salad tasted so good.  It may have been to do with the setting, under a giant plane tree, or, as I suspect, the fact that Turkish cooks have a magic touch. We went on and over another mountain pass and across a vast plain of golden crops and cattle farms framed by a dramatic mountain range beyond. Then through villages with farmhouses bedecked in colourful, tightly packed strands of red capsicums  hanging to dry from every ledge and balcony.  A long, straight downhill road took us through the attractive town of Denizli. With a population of half a million it was the biggest town we had been in since Istanbul and I liked the look of this fresh, bright, modern city, imagining it as pleasant place to live.

Pamukkale - Cotton Mountain from our hotel
 Our destination for the night  was Pamukkale. Pamukkale means "cotton castle",  named for the spectacular  white silica terraces which overlook the village.  New Zealand had similar terraces near Rotorua which were a magnet for overseas tourists in the 19th century. Sadly they were buried in the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. The pink and white terraces of Tarawera have an almost mythological status in New Zealand and I had often wondered what they were like and this was as close as I could get to finding out.  Many of the rooms at our hotel, the Hal-Tur, faced the terraces offering magnificent views of what looked for all the world like a snow covered mountain. It was hard to get my head around the fact that it wasn't snow.  That evening we had a superb 4 course meal beside the hotel swimming pool with a romantic view to the floodlit terraces opposite. 

At Heirapolis

Next morning we visited the ruined Anatolian city of Heirapolis. Dating from the 3rd century BC and now a Unesco world heritage site, the city became famous as a spa with mineral waters believed to cure many diseases.  As a consequence the necropolis, or graveyard, is huge - the curative waters didn't always work! - with some of the best and biggest tombs we have seen. 

Tombs in the vast necropolis at Heirapolis

Theatre with new excavations beyond 

The theatre with seating for 5000 and with panoramic views over the countryside, was built in 129AD for a visit by Hadrian.  It has undergone a lot of restoration but is still a work in progress. Covering a vast area, only a portion of which has been excavated,  the city, at it's height, was home to 100,000 and, during the Roman period, was famous as a centre for the arts, philosophy and trade. The apostle, Philip, lived the later part of his life in Hierapolis and was martyred there in 80AD. The city was ransacked by Persian armies in the 7th century and during its history suffered from several major earthquakes, the final one leading to its abandonment in the 14th century.  There are some marvellous examples of ornate sarcophagi and statuary from the site in the Big Bath Museum located in the ruins of the bath house (2nd century  AD).

Starting the walk down the silica terraces

We spent some time wandering the city before making our way to the modern hot thermal pools at the top of the Pamukkale Travertines, or terraces. The pools were crammed with bathers and holiday makers.  It was suffocatingly claustrophobic so we beat a hasty retreat to begin the downhill walk on the silica terraces.

To preserve the surface all walkers are required to remove their shoes and walk barefoot.  We thought it would be slippery but it wasn't, there was plenty of grip.  It was a good sensation walking in the warm flowing mineral water past terraced pools of bright aqua.... dazzling, surreal and beautiful. Even walking on the terraces it was hard to comprehend that it was not snow. It took us about half an hour from top to bottom but we really didn't want the walk to end.  At the bottom we put our shoes back onto feet, smooth, soft and relaxed from this free spa treatment and boarded our bus for our next destination, Selcuk.

Walking the Pamukkale Travertines

P.S. The Hotel, Tal-Hur, was excellent with eager to please staff and good bathrooms it was one of the better hotels we stayed in in Turkey. 

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