This just proves that you can travel the world for years and still come across something utterly unique, something you’ve just never seen before.
From Izmir we went about 135 miles southeast to Pamukkale, still enjoying the Turkish bus system. Pamukkale has been a destination for thousands of years because of the way a couple dozen hot springs create, as the guide book says, “travertines” – as though anyone has a clue what a travertine is. But it was supposed to be a one-of-a-kind sight, and it is adjacent to the ruins of the ancient city of Hieropolis, so we went.
Even after getting there, we weren’t sure what the deal was. You sit in the town and you can see this whitish stuff kind of coming down over the hillside across the road. Still, what’s the big deal?Well. After lunch we decided to hike up to the ruins and then down through these “travertines” to see what the fuss was all about. Super cool. As Wikipedia describes it, travertine is a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs, especially hot springs. It can be white, tan, creamy, or even rust colored. The water from the hot springs around Pamukkale (Turkish for “Cotton Castle”) spill out over the hill and as the water cools the minerals are left behind. Over thousands of years it creates this wild, crazy winter wonderland-looking walk down the hill.
This has also been a great example of how attention to our historic legacy can bring about positive change. Through history this wasn’t just a geological oddity; the thermal waters were believed to be therapeutic, and from the time of ancient Greeks people have been coming here to “take the cure.” As recently as 50 years ago, though, there were hotels up on the hill using the hot springs for their pools, and motorbikes were driving up and down the slopes. The combination was draining the hot springs, destroying the remains of the ancient city, and ruining the travertines.
In 1988, then, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site and Turkey took action. They tore the hotels down and removed the roads that ran up the slopes. They even prohibited people from wearing shoes while walking up and down the hill; you have to go barefoot.
And it all worked. Now it’s a glorious, festive area, with hundreds of people going up and down, playing in the pools created both naturally and by hand. It was so unusual, so crazy, that after walking through it our first afternoon and evening, we went back up the next morning to do it again.
Oh, and Hieropolis. The ancient city was founded as a thermal spa some 4,000 years ago. In Roman times the Apostle Phillip spent his last years here, and was reported to have been martyred on a hill overlooking modern Pamukkale. Our tour of the ruins included his “martyrion” along with a really great theater, probably built under the reign of Hadiran and one of the most remarkable ancient restorations we’ve seen anywhere.
While admiring the remains of the theater I was reminded of our visit to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, which displays reconstructed monumental buildings like the Pergamon Altar and the Market Gate of Miletus. As much as I enjoyed seeing them in Berlin, I kept thinking “Shouldn’t these be at their original sites?” Well, here at Hieropolis, as in Ephesus, these monumental structures are in their original sites and it is where they belong.
Finally, just a word on how lucky we are to be able to pass leisurely through Turkey like this. Most people, if they get to Pamukkale and Hieropolis at all, do it as a day trip, a quick hop off the bus, walk around, and back on. We were able to spend two days there and go back just because we really enjoyed our first walk through. That’s the luxury of time.