Pamukkale: to swim or not to swim?

A couple days ago, I did something a little unusual and spent money on a guided day trip. It was also rather long as it’s a roughly 3 hour drive from where I’m staying (Kuşadası). When we were almost there, we passed through a town and saw an example of why our destination was so unique.

Anyone that’s been to Turkey should be able to tell you that the water here has far more minerals in it than westerners are accustomed to. The locals will say all those minerals make the water taste bad, and you shouldn’t drink it for fear of getting an upset stomach. I haven’t had any trouble with it, but I’m cheap. Bottled water is pretty cheap though so if you’re concerned, there’s always that option.

In the town next to the site (not the small group of tourist buildings; an actual town), there’s a lot of iron in the water. We passed a fountain that is covered in reddish rock. It isn’t colored, that’s the result of iron rich water evaporating and leaving metal/mineral deposits behind. The same principle is in place in Pamukkale, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Pamukkale (the Turkish name which means ‘cotton palace’) is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Greek city of Hierapolis is also there and is what the area was called during Greek and Roman rule. The ancient city was built on hot springs that surface here and there.

The difference in Pamukkale is the water primarily has a lot of calcium in it. Because of this hot, calcium infused water, the city was one of the first examples (over 2000 years ago) of medical tourism. Hot calcium water is good for treating some ailments (arthritis comes to mind). In those times though, they tried to treat everything with it. As a result, many people died there as most serious diseases (like cancer) aren’t treated with mineral water.

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Random shots of Pamukkale, Turkey

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We started off wandering though the ruins of the old city; much of which is still buried. The guide told us a little about the remains of the structures we saw (the walls, a theater, a temple, etc). Fun fact: places of worship were the first buildings to be ‘recycled’. People needed stones for houses, walls, bath houses…but when they changed religions, they no longer ‘needed’ the old temples so they’d use the stones for whatever new thing they needed. OK, maybe not so fun for us today, but it gives an interesting glimpse into what they were thinking and why there aren’t more spectacular, old structures.

After the ruins, it was time to check out the hot springs, and we got a pleasant surprise. Some of the water runs down 300 meter cliffs. Since there’s a lot of calcium in the water, the ‘mountain’ is white! From a distance, it looks like snow…or cotton which is where the aforementioned ‘cotton palace’ comes from.

Then it was time to decide if I wanted to go swimming in the ‘healthy water’. Ultimately, I decided against it because: 1) I hadn’t brought a swimsuit (though I could have bought one); 2) the water was really crowded (mostly by Russians); 3) it was 32 degrees (90F) and sunny outside, and jumping in even warmer water didn’t seem like a way to cool down but make me even hotter.

Overall, it was a decent trip. However, I’d recommend renting a car and driving out yourself if at all possible. A guide isn’t really necessary, and was fairly expensive. If you do go with the ‘planning it yourself’ option, I’d recommend preparing snacks to keep in your car. And whatever you do, try to avoid buying anything there as everything costs double what it does in the rest of Turkey; the downside of a really popular tourist destination.

I hope you enjoyed this. Next post, Ephesus!

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