How Pamukkale, Turkey’s Bizarre “Cotton Castle”, Became A Natural Wonder

Published April 30, 2018
Updated October 2, 2018

The thermal waters of Pamukkale are only the beginning of the wonders that this historic site has to offer.

Pamukkale

Wikimedia CommonsThe turquoise pools on the terraced steps of Pamukkale.

In the picturesque southwest region of Denizli, Turkey, there lies a steep valley with hillsides lined with rows of shimmering white stone steps.

Legend has it that the rolling white terraces are reams cotton that solidified over the years after being left out to dry eons ago by the giants. In reality, they are carbonate mineral deposits left behind by the flowing water, though that certainly doesn’t detract from the wonder. In homage to the legend, the area has been named Pamukkale, which translates to “Cotton Castle.”

The History Of Pamukkale

Heirapolis Ruins

Wikimedia CommonsThe ruins of Hieropolis at Pamukkale.

Centuries ago, Pamukkale was the site of the ancient holy city of Hierapolis. The area was chosen as the city’s grounds for the natural thermal springs that dot the hillsides.

The springs attracted doctors and healers, who used the springs to treat their patients’ ailments. Roman Emperors such as Nero, Hadrian, Septimus Severus, and Caracalla visited the springs and left to further spread the word of Pamukkale’s springs’ supposed healing qualities.

In addition to these healing qualities, some of the springs pumped out carbon dioxide.

Throughout the steps, the springs and their mineral deposits have formed small caves. The same volcanic activity that formed the springs and the terraced steps forces carbon dioxide up through the springs and into the caves. If it has nowhere to go, it remains trapped inside.

Pictures Of Pamukkale

Model, near the chalk-water basins of Pamukkale, Turkey.

In ancient times, one of these carbon dioxide-filled caves was used for religious purposes by the priests of Cybele. They called their cave the “Plutonium,” which meant the place of the god Pluto. The priests would pray to Cybele the Anatolian mother goddess, all while remaining mysteriously immune to the effects of the high levels of carbon dioxide.

The Geography

Dry Steps

Wikimedia CommonsSome of the terraced steps with thermal hot springs at the bottom.

The thermal springs that attracted the ancients to the area are also responsible for forming the “Cotton Castle.” As the calcium-rich springs dripped slowly down the mountainside, they foam and pool in the natural terraces. As they spill over the sides of the brilliant white travertine stone, the minerals solidify in waves that appear from afar as puffy fields of cotton.

As the area is famous for its cotton, the most common crop in the region. The hills have been likened to cotton bunches, and the ascending terraced steps compared to a castle. As such, the site became known as the Cotton Castle.

The hot springs at Pamukkale are one of Turkey’s most popular tourist attractions. Ranging from 95 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, the mineral-rich waters of the pools are said to have numerous health benefits, though this has not been proven.

Pamukkale In Modern Times

Pamukkale Pools

Wikimedia CommonsThe pools with the cotton-like formations of rock in the background.

Today, the ancient city of Hierapolis at Pamukkale no longer stands. In its place are excellently preserved ruins, as well as a museum detailing the history of the region.

In the 1960s, as the tourist industry boomed and people began to travel to see the Cotton Castle, hotels and side roads were built nearby. Eventually, it was discovered that the hotels were draining the thermal waters into their swimming pools and causing irreparable damage to the terraces.

The hotels were ultimately demolished and new ordinances implemented. Water usage for all hotels near the site is now limited, and new replacement pools were constructed to help restore spring water.

Today, visitors still flock to Pamukkale, hoping to take a dip in one of the famous thermal pools and explore the ruins of Hierapolis. While the runis and the museum are open to the public, the pools are seasonal. In the winter the path to reach the terraced pools may be closed due to snow, though the pools remain warm and full.

Some of the springs are closed off due to erosion and some are only available for tourists to dip their feet in. Still, many of the pools remain open for visitors to splash in, creating one of Turkey’s largest and most historic tourist attractions.


After learning about Pamukkale, check out Urueña, the Spanish town with more books than people. Then, read about the lost underground city of Derinkuyu.

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