Nine hours of walking through Travertines and Hierapolis:  About the Travertines today.

It’s all about light!  Today, I got so lucky.  The sun was shining and in exactly the right direction all day long which made for a really happy mood and wonderful, even dramatic pictures.

Pamukkale is the – and I mean the travel destination for Turkey due to its unique geological Travertine formations.   I arrived flying in from Trabzon via Denizli last night.  Luckily, I had to share the Travertines with a surprisingly small number of people.  Most organized tours don’t allow time for the walk through this spectacular landscape (people are limited to looking at it from above) and we are still a couple of weeks before high season.  But the day was as good as any you will get.  Thanks, St. Christopher!

This site would make a geographer’s heart and most likely a chemist’s heart beat faster.  I took it in for its sheer visual beauty but I am completely baffled by its makeup.  But here is what I learned:  There are thermal springs at Hierapolis – that’s why it has been a spa since antiquity.  The water is a natural 36/98 degrees and has a high concentration of calcium hydrocarbonate.  Coming in contact with the oxygen in the air the calcium carbonate precipitates forming the travertine and carbon monoxide is evaporating…  Don’t believe for a minute that I know what I am talking about!  I am copying this out of the site information.

But for the chemists among you, let’s go all the way:  Ca(HCO3)+O2 = CaCO+CO2+CO+H2O.  🙂  (I wish, I knew how to make those numbers smaller for the full effect…).

What you see on postcards is usually Photoshop-manipulated and whitewashed and photographed at the time of water filling up the Travertines.  This rarely happens.

The Travertines are much rougher than I thought they would be.  And in layman’s terms, here is what I experienced:  Already in the town of Pamukkale, I noticed water channels.  Some were dry, others filled with gushing water coming down from the surrounding hills.  Over an area of about a square mile the hills over Pamukkale are covered with this white stuff, a hard substance called Travertine.  As it comes down, it forms bizarre shapes, almost a moon-scape in places, bulging shapes in other, and cascading terraces in yet other areas. There are pools which are partially filled with water, large and small; some obviously man-made, others natural.

When you walk on it – which is only allowed along one particular path and you have to take your shoes off – the surface is rough, sandy, scratchy, and smooth, rippled, or full of little craters – depending where you are.  But almost nowhere is it slippery.  That was the most amazing discovery for me.  You always have a perfect grip on this surface with your bare feet.  Walking may hurt – yes, it does hurt in places – but you are in no danger of slipping no matter how steep it gets.  There are guards watching over you at all points to make sure you don’t do anything they don’t like – such as getting off the path.  Then they whistle at you.  I picked up a couple of small pieces of the loose stuff and they did not seem to mind that.  Terri, since you were the inspiration for this stop, one piece is for you.

The Travertines are usually dry.  That was also surprising to me since in all images I know, they are shown full of water.  But no, the water is only released in very controlled small amounts through channels coming from the thermal spring.  The Travertines would be slippery and brown if moss would develop due to constant immersion under water.  It is the exposure to air (not water) which forms the Travertines in the first place, and allows them to harden.  Also, dirt would accumulate as it had due to hundreds of years of uncontrolled use by disrespectful and ignorant visitors.

The Travertines had deteriorated almost beyond rescue.  It was the UNESCO protection which introduced new, strict, and limiting use and exposure.  Over the last few decades, the Travertines have recovered to a great extent so that what we see today is almost white and healthy again.

The water that comes down is hot at its origin, but still warm and comfortable as it rushes down into a city park and continues into the channels feeding the city.  The volume at which the spring produces water has diminished over time by almost 1/3.  I am not sure why, but perhaps, this too, indicates that nothing is permanent that is not cared for.  Hopefully, the water will keep running for hundreds if not thousands of years to come.

With the sun shining, the Travertines were glistening and a wonderful blue-green coloration of the water areas occurred in the morning.   A red setting sun created a near orange turn of the Travertines in the evening.  As I said, I got very lucky.

What a place!

Good night.



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  1. You are painting such a different picture of Turkey than I ever imagined.When I first saw your pictures my thought was “Poor Elisabeth in the cold snow” only to discover the Travertines were fed by hot springs. I agree – what a place and what a day.