Pamukkale was one of the places I was particularly intrigued about. When we were planning our trip, my grand parents used the occasion to recount their fond memories of this place, the beautiful terraces and the ruins of the old city on top of it. A good friend of mine recalled things quite differently: The terraces grey and dirtied by the thousands of tourists bathing there. The roman ruins intertwined with giant hotels and a road built through the terraces to reach those hotels.
I did read up on the place and found that, while Pamukkale had been nearly destroyed by tourism in the 90ies, it was now protected by the state. The hotels had been removed and the terraces were being restored to their previous glory. Bathing in the terraces was forbidden.
So there was hope. It could be pretty again, unique and amazing. Or it could be horrible, overrun and disappointing. Reaching the town of Pamukkale at the foot of the terraces was quite horrible really. It is run down and has absolutely no flair or vibe. We got there in the late afternoon and I at least was disappointed.. I would’ve been willing to turn around without even visiting the terraces.
We didn’t though and that was a good thing.
Yes Pamukkale is completely overrun by tourists. Yes there’s very little flair, especially in the terraces. But there is still a lot to be seen. Not so much the terraces themselves, which I found couldn’t measure up to the expectations created by the internet. The vast majority are without water, including the ones you can always see on pictures, when you google Pamukkale. The path you can walk through the terraces is one big shoving range, especially in the afternoon, and the artificial pools in which you can “swim” are about knee-deep. Not really enough to warrant bringing your swimming suit.
However once you get to the top, you can explore Hierapolis. There’s a lot less tourists there and there are some truly stunning things to see. In particular the necropolis, a giant cemetery to the north of the city. It consists of tons of small mausoleums, which often are partially submerged in the white calcium of the terraces. This makes for truly unique views, which I enjoyed a lot. At least a lot more than the sinter terraces themselves. If you walk around enough, you will eventually also find some terraces that are filled with water and make for a nice picture.
The story goes that the well isn’t giving enough water to feed all of Pamukkale constantly and therefore there is a detailed plan on which part gets watered when, so that all of Pamukkale retains its unique white glow. To me it looks more like they were trying to “cover” specific areas in white spreading the calcium out as much as possible without being interested in keeping the water flowing elsewhere.
In the evening we found that there is a spot close to the town of Pamukkale where the water runs down the slope of the mountain freely and which you’re even allowed to access. That area is also covered in calcium and we managed to catch the sun-set there, watching the reflecting sunlight in the water of these miniature-terraces, which was very nice.
I won’t even mention the red terraces, which had been recommended to us as a “less touristy alternative” to Pamukkale. They’re horrible. For me they were an example of what Pamukkale would look like if the government hadn’t stepped in and declared it a natural park. The source is completely surrounded by buildings, most of the terraces themselves are artificial and in the lower part garbage and plastic bags are accumulating, in greyish water while in the upper part everybody and their dog is taking a bath. I definitely can not recommend it.