Feb 152011
 
White Pamukkale

Snowy, cottony Pamukkale

A missing screw…

10 hours long bus drive from Istanbul was over, we reached the Denizli station. It was 8 am and our plan was to start heading for Pamukkale as soon as possible. Good plans don’t always work out – it turned out we had lost a bolt from Umut’s front wheel hub. Either it vanished in the bus luggage compartment or it had stayed somewhere at the station in Istanbul. After half an hour’s search only a temporary solution was found – we adapted a bolt from the rear light fastening – and set out on a bike shop hunt. Luckily, almost every local person we asked knew where such a shop was and all pointed to the same direction so we got there fairly quickly. Luckily again, the shop was open and they had the thingy we were looking for; the only snag was that it couldn’t be bought separately and we had to spend 7TL on the whole hub.

Taking a leisurely look at the crowds

I’ve been putting this visit off for three years, places that are popular with tourists are not on my top destinations list. Having said that, these white rocks have immense magnetic power, it was hard to believe they had nothing to do with snow, which I missed in Turkey a lot, I wanted to touch them with my own fingers and see them with my own eyes – this is where this sudden tourist awakening comes from. Actually, we were in Denizli even three weeks before, with the same intention of visiting Pamukkale, but the plan fell through due to a wrong choice of a route (devious and exhausting one). This time Pamukkale was the first thing to be ‘done’ so that the likelihood of anything going wrong would be diminished and so that we could tick it off the list and sleep well.

The famous terraces are 20 km from the Denizli centre. In Pamukkale itself we missed the turn right for the ‘wheeled’ tourists so we had to move back from the booth and gate for walkers, find the turn and struggle uphill a bit – ‘a bit’ aptly levels out the difficulty, which was minimal for Umut and colossal for myself. My feeble muscles were so happy to see this first entrance and the white rocks just behind it that it was difficult to motivate them for this extra effort, especially that the noon was near.

Map - Hierapolis/Pamukkale

What to see and how not to get lost

We left our bikes on a parking lot among dozens of buses and cars, without bothering to lock them, counting on people’s honesty or thieves’ laziness – who would want to steal bikes and then lug them or ride uphill? And how nice we didn’t misjudge the human nature – the bikes were just where we left them, even though we were absent for over 5 hours.

Hierapolis - ancient theatre seen from above

They are called “ruins” but I can easily imagine them as a proper theatre. (www.imageshack.us)

Shocked by tourists

Entrance – 20TL.
The ruins were arguably impressive, as well as the number of visitors. I know I shouldn’t complain about the surrounding crowd. Why would a view of deserted ancient towns be superior? They used to be populated too. Densely populated. The theatre built in Hieropolis by Hadrian, after rebuilding a few centuries later, had a capacity of 10-12,000 people. Hundreds of tourists let you not only imagine but actually see the Fortinius Street bustling with life.

Aphrodite - statue, nude

A piece of divine body - Aphrodite. (www.pamukkale.gov.tr)

Now, a weird confession by a prude… I was shocked by the ‘skimpy clothing’ of visitors from the Turkish Riviera. I know, there’s no dress code there and it’s kind of obvious and understandable that if someone has just left the Antique Pool (extra 20TL for the entrance), they are going to parade in a swimming suit amongst the ruins in order to top up their tan – that’s precisely why people come to the south of Turkey. I shouldn’t be juxtaposing Pamukkale with what can normally be seen on Turkish streets (by which I mean, for example, the obligatory masking shirts under anything that has shoulder straps or a low neckline, shirts that are worn not only by scarfed women). The comparison doesn’t make sense at all but still I felt as if I was in a different country. Anyway, for the time being you can see more human flesh in the local museum and it will take some time before the proportions will get reversed.

Painting: The Martyrdom of St Philip

Tired of the joyous crowd we decided to go to St Philip Martyrium, that is, the place of his crucifixion, which is located a bit away from the ‘city centre’ and above the rest of the ruins. We were quite thoughtless and set out on this walk with just 300 ml of water, so I soon started feeling as if my life was going to end there as well, but it looks like I was meant to survive against the odds, because we managed to get back to the ‘centre’ and find a booth selling water (with the appropriate tourist markup).

A bath in the limestone or concrete – as some people say – terraces was divine. I’m not going to investigate what these pools are made of, I’m pretty sure asbestos is not involved. There might have been as many people soaking in the thermal water as there were spectators in the ancient theatre and I didn’t mind at all. It could have been so much worse…

Shocked by privitisation

In the 80s Turkey was subject to sweeping privatisation, everything was on sale, including plots for building hotels in Hierapolis/Pamukkale. And if you think that these investment opportunities attracted only some dodgy businessmen you are wrong – also the Turkish jandarma had their own recreation centre there. In 1988 Pamukkale was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the same time the snowy ‘cotton’ was disappearing from the rocks because the tourists were allowed to stroll around the whole site – in their shoes!; and hotel pools were filled with thermal water – the Antique Pool is the only object left from that time, as well as the palms that grow amongst the ruins, Pamukkale is not their natural habitat. For 25 years there were protests by various Turkish organisations, followed by lawsuits, none of them effective enough. ‘Fortunately’, one entrepreneur came up with the insane idea of building a hotel right on the slope and that made people realise they had gone too far – and in all fairness the authorities ordered that all of the hotels should be demolished, for which we’re enormously grateful.

Crowds in Pamukkale

(www.img.sabah.com.tr)

By the way – from time to time rumor has it that Istanbul is also at risk of being chucked out of the UNESCO List, as the authorities don’t seem to be very concerned about its precious architectural gems.

About the rest of the day – some other time:)

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