Pamukkale: Reviving the spa spirit



Whole cities have grown up in the past around the curative springs and streams of the Pamukkale region in Southwest Turkey. The region is now turning into a resort offering much to see and do in addition to the beauty spot from which it takes its name.



Everybody has heard of Pamukkale. For decades now, the extraordinary terraced hillside of cascading rock and welling water has been a sine qua non of Turkish tourism brochures. To busy residents and spoilt-for-choice holiday-makers, the familiar frozen image of white and blue, warmed by the heartthrob of thermal springs, may seem a little remote. But those who hesitate to visit the “Cotton Castle” are missing out on more than just one natural wonder.


Still white – and red


A decade ago, the landmark travertines showed signs of turning grey. This national disaster was swiftly averted. Gone are the hotels and hamams which had occupied the vital river valley and monopolised the hot water. And since 1997, visitors shod and unshod have been barred from wandering over the terraces at will and splashing freely in and out of the curvy pools (Alternative facilities are provided on site).


Thus at the expense of a little fun now, the delicate balance of geology, temperature and meteorology has been restored for the future: the calcium bicarbonate precipitates and hardens, and the whole faintly radioactive formation is regenerated, a milky white, ad infinitum.


Pamukkale is not the only hot or warm spring in the region and not all of them are white. Karahayit, five kilometres away, runs red with iron minerals, spouting a surreal miniature landscape of rainbow rock. Stalactites and stalagmites await visitors to the caves of Kaklık and Keloğlan and the nearby hills and forests conceal lakes like Saklı Göl, Işıklı Göl and Salda Gölü, waterfalls like Yeşildere and the bird reserve of Acı Göl.


Two cities


While nature has persevered on this spot for thousands of years, the human civilisations whose needs it has provided have come and gone. Adjacent to Pamukkale stand the dusty ruins of Hierapolis. Established in 190BC by the King of Pergamon and named after his Amazon queen spouse Hiera, the city was devastated by an earthquake in 60AD. It survived to become an important centre of early Christianity. The remains of gates, arcades, walls, temples, churches and a theatre are easily identified, and smaller relics are exhibited in the pleasant local museum, located in a Roman bath. Even so, the city is best known for the limestone and marble monuments of its extensive necropolis.


Compare and contrast the less spectacular hill-top ruins of Laodikeia, situated just a few kilometres to the south, and closer to the booming textile town of Denizli. These include two theatres, a stadium, a gymnasium, a council building, a monumental fountain and portions of giant aqueducts as well as a large church. A settlement from prehistoric times onwards, Laodikeia (or Laodicea) became one of the seven churches of Asia (Minor) of early Christianity (The Book of Revelations lambasts its cosy wealth and implicitly its tepid water).


How to spa


People have been “taken the waters” here for millenia. Ancient myths celebrate the beautifying properties of the thermal springs. In Roman times, religious ceremonies and festivals were held beside the pools. Wealthy individuals and statesmen apparently came to Hierapolis for healing, which was administered by priests and physicians. These were the precursors of the “health tourists” and “spa hotels” which are reinvigorating the Pamukkale region today.


Among the hotels of all sizes and grades at Pamukkale and Karahayıt are several which take the wellness concept seriously and offer a wide range of treatments and therapies as well as recreational activities and access to the timeless tonic springs. They seek to alleviate cardiac conditions, physiological complaints, skin diseases, all forms of aches and pains, digestive problems and loss of appetite, not to mention mere age or stress.


The Colossae package


One of the region’s leading facilities is the five-star Collossae Hotel, named after the third of the ancient cities of the Lycus River area, and pictured with this article. The hotel claims to be the only one with both Pamukkale and Karahayıt waters on stream. Aside from a choice of Turkish, sauna, thermal and herbal baths, three, five and seven-day “Collife” programmes can be booked which incorporate a range of massage treatment, hydrotherapy, electrotherapy, mud therapy and exercise. Personal programmes are suggested for slimming, beauty or combating stress.


There are indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a fitness centre and facilities for soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, squash and table tennis. Players, joggers and trekkers do not retain the smell of sweat for long in these aromatic surroundings. It is not always easy to choose between the balcony plus 24-hour room service and the indoor and outdoor restaurants and bars, with discos or live music.


New meeting point


Pamukkale has generally been a day-trip destination for holiday-makers to the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts. With all modern conveniences on hand, the itinerary can now be reversed, as early-rising travellers strike out from here towards Aphrodisias, Ephesus and the Aegean to the West, or Dalaman and Marmaris to the south.


The region’s hotels are also well-suited for private celebrations, retreats and conferences. The Colossae offers meeting rooms seating anything from 25 to 250 people, and banqueting for groups of almost all sizes. In short, you can still make excuses for not going to Pamukkale, but you can make many more excuses for going.



(DIPLOMAT  -  June 2005  -  Ankara)