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Wonderous White Cliffs of Pamukkale

Pamukkale Travertine terrace detail

What happens when calcium rich spring water flows for thousands of years over a series of rock outcroppings?  You get the incredible “cotton castle” of Pamukkale, a rocky cliff side covered in an expansive, white layer of calcium carbonate and other minerals.  The sight is magnificent in scale and sublime in the natural details.

Pamukkale dried poolsAmazingly, the Pamukkale cliffs are located just a few hundred yards from the Hierapolis thermal pools.  For centuries, the mineral rich water from the thermal spring flowed over these cliffs.  Mixing with carbon dioxide in the air, deposits slowly formed coating and smoothing the rocks.  In the mid-20th century, the water was diverted to fill swimming pools in several hotels constructed on the archaeological site.  As a result of this intervention, the white cliffs became dirty and damaged.  But in the last decade, the hotels were removed, the water flow carefully planned and human access limited to conserve the site.  Today the travertines are mostly back to their brilliant white and open for exploration!

white cliffs, cotton castles of Pamukkale

Wide view of the white Pamukkale cliffs from the modern city below

Visitors are allowed to walk along the cliffs in bare feet.  This preserves the detailed texture of the mineral layer.  The stone is actually sharp in places so everyone steps slowly and purposefully!  Walking through the puddles stirs up some of the silty insoluble particles.  You can see our feet in one of the travertine puddles below (and also on the Toemail blog).

Pamukkale texture

It may look like sand, but these mineral deposits are not soft!

Standing in the travertines at Pmaukkale

Standing in the travertines at Pamukkale

Rather than flowing freely over the cliffs, the current water flow has been designed to fill several large standing pools.  It is occasionally diverted with smalls dams to wet different sections of site.  You are more than welcome to bath in the running water or soak in the cascade of large, calm pools.

Series of pools at Pamukkale

View down the Pamukkale cliffs at sunset showing the cascade of pools

Pamukkale infinity pool

Pamukkale cliff pool

Large sections of the white travertines are off limits to people.  These small pools and delicate, ancient stones are gorgeous.  There formations appear as if they are flowing and dripping today but its only the effect of thousands of years of mineral deposits.

Pamukkale pool detail

Several small pools at the Pamukkale site, off-limits for climbing but close enough to appreciate

Pamukkale Travertine terrace

Major cliff face at the Pamukkale travertines with bubbling, dripping mineral formations

Pamukkale Travertine terrace detail

Delicate stalactite and stalagmite formations at Pamukkale, Turkey

You can enter the white travertines of Pamukkale from the Hierapolis archaeological site.  While the cliffs are less crowded and beautiful under the golden light of sunrise and sunset, make sure you see them under direct sunlight to appreciate the whiteness of the mineral formations!

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. jumpingpolarbear #

    Some amazing photos right there. Nothing as beautiful as nature :).


    December 31, 2012
    • Thanks and I totally agree about the beauty of nature!


      January 4, 2013
  2. katie #



    December 31, 2012
  3. This is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever seen. How fantastic it was for you to be able to see it and step into a wonderful mineral pool. Your photos make me feel as if I was there.


    December 31, 2012
    • Thanks! That means a lot to me (especially since I feel like I hiked through Peru with your photos)!


      January 1, 2013
  4. Great post! Not many people include close ups of the salt deposits in their posts on this site. It really adds another dimension.

    Thanks so much!


    December 31, 2012
    • Thanks! I thought the details were the best parts of the formations. I had to include the walking surface because that was a big part of the experience visiting Pamukkale.


      January 1, 2013
  5. geologyfreak #

    Those cliff pools are just fascinating. The blue water makes it more awesome. I have just seen them in photos. I hope to see them in real (while going out for field work). There are’t much of these cliffs in southern Asia (India)


    January 3, 2013
  6. This place is amazing. I have been there three times and it still amazes me. There’s nothing like this in other countries, so Pamukkale is quite unique. There is also an ancient city called Hierapolis at the top of Pamukkale, which is also stunning. And 15 minutes from Pamukkale there’s a natural thermal hot spring in Karahayit, which is also nice to see. So If you guys have the opportunity, you should really visit Denizli (town) in Turkey. You will be stunned by the natural beauty of this city.


    March 15, 2013
  7. Wow, your pics do a great job illustrating different aspects of one of the world’s great wonders. I’m filing away your practical tips just in case I ever get there…great stuff.


    March 18, 2013
  8. What time of the year did you visit?


    December 26, 2017

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