The Turquoise Terraces of Pamukkale

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Oct. 9 2013 8:32 AM

Turquoise Terraces at the Cotton Castle: The Natural Pools of Pamukkale

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a new travel blog. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

Once the Roman equivalent of a health spa, the spectacular rock formations below the ancient city of Hierapolis form a blindingly white natural cascading fountain. The limestone pools, terraced and shaped like oyster shells, formed due to mineral-rich water from ancient hot springs spilling down the hillside for millennia. 

Named the "Cotton Castle" in Turkish, the site has been celebrated as a natural wonder since the second century BC, when the city of Hierapolis formed around the healing waters. A thriving metropolis during the Roman era, the city was rebuilt several times following earthquakes, and was not completely abandoned until 1300 AD. The ruins are extensive, including a Nymphaeum fountain which distributed water throughout the city, a large amphitheatre, as well as the remains of the largest ancient necropolis in Turkey.


Together with the ruins of Hierapolis, Pamukkale is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prior to the 1988 designation, the terraces were in danger of being destroyed through a combination of neglect and commercial development. Hotels were built at the top of the site, partly obscuring the ruins. Wear and tear from visitors' shoes scarred the pools and turned many of them brown.

Efforts to protect the delicate natural phenomenon have dramatically changed the area. Hotels have been demolished, and, in an effort to maintain the pools' natural white appearance, access is tightly restricted. Water released from the spring is controlled and only distributed to a few pools at a time. Artificial pools for bathing tourists have also been added.

Although natural phenomena like the Pamukkale pools are exceedingly rare, a similar but smaller set of travertine pools exists in Huanglong, China. A New Zealand site beloved by Victorian settlers was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1886.

Spring awakenings:

View Pamukkale in a larger map



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Scotland Votes to Remain in U.K.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Can Democrats Keep Counting on Republicans to Offend Women as a Campaign Strategy?


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.