“Shoes off,” the guard at Pamukkale instructs me. I look ahead – a long and wide white pathway lies before me, filled with visitors with their shoes in the hands. I take mine off and step onto the strange-looking surface.
I know from my research that it’s calcium, washed down in the water and hardened over the centuries. It feels solid to touch and, as I start to walk along, a soft flow of water splashes over my feet. I make my way up the path, which is leading towards the top of the cliffs. Large pools of water have formed in terraces along the side and, if you dared walk amongst the young children playing in them, you would find softer deposits of calcium that your feet would sink into slightly.
At the top of the cliffs (where I’m allowed to put my shoes back on) is a track that leads further long the top of the ridge. Here is where the real beauty of the terraces of travertines reveals itself. Pool upon pool cascade into each other from the water which runs down into them. Some are now empty because of overuse by tourists over the years but there are enough to get the impression – and it’s stunning.
I’ve arrived at Pamukkale just before sunset and the changing light creates an animate spectacle as the colours morph in front of me. At one point as strong wind picks up and the water comes alive, jumping out of the travertines and blowing across the cliff into my face.
For thousands of years, the pools – and the water within them – have been considered to have health benefits. Two thousand years ago, the spa city of Hierapolis was built at the top of the cliffs. And in the middle of the last century, a collection of modern hotels was also constructed to make the most of the minerals.
These days the ruins of Hierapolis are still there and are worth visiting. The hotels, on the other hand, have been completely demolished after it was decided they were causing too much damage to the site and the whole area was heritage-protected.
Whereas once you could swim in the travertines, now security guards keep a watchful eye on anyone trying to get too close. Other than a special swimming pool that has been constructed away from the cliffs, Pamukkale is generally to be seen but not touched these days.
In many ways, that’s to be applauded. The site is a truly remarkable natural phenomenon and it would be a pity if human interference damaged it permanently for future generations. There were certainly no complaints from anyone about taking their shoes off.