Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Ten Things To Do in Pamukkale

Text by Albena Shkodrova | Photographs by Anthony Georgieff   
God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh; but when did he have fun? It is unclear which day of the week the bearded sage set aside for this purpose, but it seems that, on that day, he created Pamukkale, the Cotton Castle in Western Turkey.

Water, rich in lime, springs from a mountain top and pours down the sides, covering stones and plants in a dull marble-like white layer. The effect is amazing: dozens of natural white pools, arranged in descending terraces. Each is full of cool water in hundreds of colours that change with the hour of day -from blinding white to azure blue and blood red. The pools spread underneath the excavations of the ancient city of Hierapolis, which was used for its healing mineral baths in antiquity.
Pamukkale is one of Turkey’s most popular tourist spots, which explains the chronic congestion by visitors and coaches. Still, do not miss it, for ten things you will never forget await you there!

1. Take the path that covers the three kilometres from the village of Pamukkale to the peak. A little after you reach the slope, take your shoes off and walk barefoot on the whitish path along which water flows. It is like wading a shallow river with a smooth bottom: a fantastic sensation when the air temperature is 30°C. The colours you tread are part of the pleasure: white, very light and slightly deeper blues.

2. Enter one of the calcified pools along the white path. The deepest they get is knee-deep. Their bottoms are covered in a soft layer of light-coloured sediment and each has a different water temperature. You will see dozens of people entertaining themselves in this way. Another way to enjoy the water is to keep dipping your feet into the stream to the left of the path as you climb it. The water is rapid and high, so you won’t be able to walk in it, but it is fun all the same

3. Look around the top pool with its submerged pieces of Roman columns. This pool is warm, with a high mineral content. At peak times, it does look like tourist meatball soup, but if you pick the right moment (very early in the morning or off-season), you can swim among the millennia-old postaments and capitols.

4. Visit the archaeological museum with its magnificent collection of sarcophagi and reliefs featuring gladiator fights. A hall with “minor finds” contains a jug with a phallus for a spout. It was used in rituals devoted to Aphrodite and Priapus, and shows the influence of Aphrodisias: a nearby cult site that ranked alongside Delphi in Greece. Do not miss the hall furthest from the entrance with its four wonderful sculptures.

5. Further up the hill behind the pool, look for Pluto’s poisonous springs among the excavations. In antiquity, oracles used their toxic vapour to impressed gullible citizens. They showed their power by throwing birds and small animals into the mouth of the cave, thus killing them in seconds. Due to its fatal properties, the spring was named after Pluto, the god of the underworld. Today, the spring is dry, but the wire-fence can still be seen, with a sign that reads Tehlikelidir Zehirli Gaz ('Danger! Poison Gas'): testimony to several accidents among overenthusiastic visitors.

6. Look around the ruins of the Byzantine Church, the temple of Apollo, and the Roman amphitheatre, and then climb to the exceptional octagonal Church of St. Philip. Set high up in an isolated spot, it guarantees seclusion and breath-taking views down the mountain slope.

7. Turn right and go downhill through an incredible number of antique mounds of all shapes and sizes. Some have been excavated by archaeologists, while others have been shattered by earthquakes. You can enter some of them to see how Romans fared after their death. Head for the road through the monstrously large Agora: one of the largest Roman marketplaces discovered to date. And one of the most beautiful cemeteries. Judging by the number of tombs in it, the Hierapolis mineral water was not all that healthy!

8. At sunset, stand above the limestone pools and watch the surreal white and blue landscape turn lilac-pink.

9. Do some anthropological research among the cosmopolitan crowd. You will hear many interesting things said by ultra-conservative Turks whose wives are covered except for a pair of eyes and ten toes, fascinated Americans, camera-toting Japanese, and frolicking Russian ladies.

10. Hurry along to Pamukkale, because the spring is drying out and the place may not exist a decade from now. Some of the limestone pools are already empty and it is a matter of time before their white calcium gets soiled and collapses. Water levels began dropping after the 1980s tourist boom when large hotels sprung up at the top. They have all been demolished since, to save the natural wonder, yet this did not recover the water flow. Ecologists now blame the village below, many of whose denizens divert water from Pamukkale to feed their pools.

It is best to visit in Pamukkale in April or October, when the area is warm enough to allow swimming in the pools, while the flow of tourists is not so high.




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