The Cotton Castles of Pamukkale, Turkey

The Cotton Castles

A post by Lady Felicity

In November 2019 Greg and I went to Turkey to film an episode of our travel  adventure documentary series. From the title, ‘Turkey: Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities’ you can easily guess what first drew us to the country – but during our short time there we wanted to explore as much of what the country has to offer as possible. One place that really stood out for me while we were researching our journey beforehand was Pamukkale, also known as the ‘Cotton Castles’.

We started our Turkish adventure in Goreme, Cappadocia but to reach Pamukkale we had to catch a short flight from the nearby Nevsehir to Denizli (via Istanbul) which is then about a fifty minute drive to Pamukkale.

Today many people consider  Pamukkale the eighth wonder of the world. Once there, it’s very easy to see why.

Turkey, through my eyes, is mostly a landscape of soft golds, browns and creams. Even the sky had a soft palette to me. Soft sunrise and sunset, it could all have been painted with delicate watercolours. To have that gentle golden brown interrupted with what looks like a snippet from a snow covered arctic wasteland is so unexpected that it can be quite jarring. It just doesn’t look like it belongs there.

Imagine a cliff made up of individual pools which form in large step-like terraces. Imagine it’s all formed from hardened, compacted snow and ice with icicles forming decorative stalactites here and there. The pools sparkling with sometimes crystal clear, other times milky but always quite beautifully blue tinted water. A stream of the water gushes along in a narrow channel alongside the cliff’s sharpest edge. That’s the best I can do to describe what my eyes felt like they were looking at when visiting this incredible place.

Legend said that the formations are solidified cotton, the area’s principal crop, giants left out to dry long ago. In reality, however, it is something much more unusual than snow or cotton.

These travertines are believed to have been formed in a process which lasted 15 thousand years. Underground hot springs located 160m above the plain of Menderes, containing 34’C water rich with calcium bicarbonate, allow water to trickle down the hillside. As it does so there is a chemical reaction that results in the formation of the pure white limestone terraces we see today.

The thermal pools have been a tourist attraction for thousands of years. Only in more recent years, when the site was declared a World Heritage Site, were preservation efforts and methods put in place to protect this natural wonder. The surrounding hotels, erected on top of the ancient city of Hierapolis located above the terraces of Pamukkale were then torn down and where once motorbikes were permitted to drive up and down the white slopes, now all but one footpath through the pools is closed off to the public. This footpath is also restricted to barefoot only.

So much damage took place in the past, I was glad to see they are now doing their best to preserve the site while also allowing admiring tourists to enjoy it.

For those of you who have watched our video (links at the bottom of the post) you will already know about the issues we initially had when visiting the Cotton Castles of Pamukkale – that the thermal pools combined with a cool morning created a white blanket of mist. Trying to see the white travertines or the ancient city of Hierapolis through a shroud of mist proved tricky bordering on impossible. Once the afternoon sunshine broke through it though things improved.

We walked along the beautiful path, struggling to connect the snow-like appearance our eyes were seeing with the thermal pool temperatures and hard, rock surface our feet were feeling.

A lot of the pools and much of the path we had largely to ourselves as the majority of people don’t seem to stray too far from the entrance and the first handful of pools located there.

When we first arrived in Hierapolis and struggled to even find the Cotton castles, the mist was that thick, I was so disappointed. How glad I am now that it cleared in time for us to explore them. I now know properly what I would have been missing and it is something, if you’re visiting Turkey, not to miss. Such an incredible natural wonder and one of the many beautiful highlights from our time in Turkey.

Thank you for reading, and safe travels.



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