Turkey’s Pamukkale: Of otherworldly natural wonders and ancient ruins

From the shimmering limestone pools to fruit trees, patchwork fields, and quiet ruins of ancient cities, Pamukkale unfolds a lesser-explored side of Turkey.
The white travertine terraces of pamukkale are blessed with mineral-rich warm waters. Pamukkale
The white travertine terraces of Pamukkale are blessed with mineral-rich warm waters. Image: Shutterstock/muratart.

Pamukkale in western Turkey is popular as the ‘Cotton Castle’ for a reason. Rising up through limestone cliffs and cascading dramatically downhill, the ice-blue thermal waters of terrace travertine pools look otherworldly, to say the least.

These shallow milky-blue pools turn into a white canvas of calcium carbonate formations and reflect the dramatic skies through the fading hours of the day. Wade barefooted through these terraces, soak in the warm mineral-rich waters, and take in the gorgeous view before you.

Take a dip in the cleopatra's pool. Pamukkale
Take a dip in the Cleopatra’s Pool. Image: Shutterstock/Nejdet Duzen.

Speaking of healing waters, you ought to take a swim in Cleopatra’s Pool. Its pristine turquoise waters allow you to float over ancient Roman ruins under ample of natural shade. Located at the top of the terraces, it was formed in the seventh century when the surrounding statues and marble columns of Temple of Apollo came crashing into the waters due to an earthquake. Today, the place stands as a modern pool, with changing rooms and a cafe.

Once done soaking in the springs, arrive at the nearby ancient city of Hierapolis in the Aegean region. Eumenes II, the king of Pergamum and a man of leisure who appreciated the finer things in life, established the thermal spa city of Hierapolis towards the end of the second century BC.  It is believed that the individuals of Pergamum designed Hierapolis with a mixture of Roman, Jewish, Pagan and early Christian influences.

The ancient city of hierapolis is a unesco world heritage centre. Pamukkale
The ancient city of Hierapolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Image: Shutterstock/Alexlukin.

Now located in the modern-day province of Denizli, the UNESCO-listed ancient city today has an abundance of well-preserved structures and ruins to visit, from a Necropolis to the famed Domitian Gate to a theater with reliefs illustrating the high and mighty of the bygone era.

Cherries are a seasonal specialty in the orchards surrounding Pamukkale and its ruins. So, expect to witness cherry blossoms in full bloom, and attend the Honaz Cherry Festival that runs through June. Strong, frothy coffee is a staple that each household offers, alongside cheese-filled pide bread and a warm hoşgeldiniz (‘welcome’ in Turkish), after throwing its door open to the visitors.

Gliding over the travertine terraces in a hot air balloon is no less than a dream! Pamukkale
Gliding over the travertine terraces in a hot air balloon is no less than a dream! Image: Shutterstock/muratart.

Although taking strolls through the villages of Pamukkale opens doors to discover this white wonderland, the best possible way to appreciate its dramatic landscape of high peaks, ancient ruins, and travertine terraces is to glide through the vast skies in a hot air balloon!

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