Pamukkale (pronounced “par-moo-car-lay”) is a UNESCO world heritage site in south west Turkey. The name translates as “cotton castle”, but whoever came up with this can’t have been looking very closely: Pamukkale is not a castle and, what appears from a distance to be cotton, is actually a hard mineral deposit. Not that that’s a criticism – as mineral deposits go, it’s a particularly impressive one.
The white cliffs and round pools of Pamukkale are all formed from travertine, a type of limestone. Hot springs bring mineral-rich water to the surface, where it reacts with the air and leaves calcium carbonate all over the place. It’s this calcium carbonate that gives Pamukkale its distinctive appearance – layer after layer of clean white travertine, all cascading over itself like toothpaste foaming from the mouth of Mother Earth.
Strangely, Pamukkale is a sister city of Las Vegas, but the two couldn’t be more different. It’s difficult to see how they could be sisters – one is a naturally beautiful wonder while the other is famously artificial (although I suppose the same could be said for the Minogues).
Pamukkale is open to the public and people are welcome to walk over the travertine terraces. The only restriction is that visitors must first remove their footwear – the site’s guardians making the (often incorrect) assumption that tourists’ feet will be cleaner than their flip flops.
In the past, Pamukkale was thought to have healing benefits and the hot pools have been used for bathing and relaxation since Roman times. These days the site is still a major tourist attraction, with thousands of people visiting to experience the hot springs and rub the pools’ minerally mud on their bodies. (Please note that it’s a special kind of mud – not something you can recreate in the garden).
If you want to visit Pamukkale, it’s easiest by bus or by taking an arranged trip from one of Turkey’s many resorts. Tourists typically spend an hour at the site – 10 minutes in the pools, then 50 minutes trying to rub off the mud in time to get the coach back to their hotel.