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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

Walking on the moon?
March 4, 2000


Once upon a time, there was a beautiful goddess named Selene. No, she wasn't a modern Latina pop star. She was the ancient Latina (that is, Roman) goddess of the moon. One day, she came down to earth to meet the handsome young shepherd Endymion, "a youth of unsurpassed beauty," who lived right here, where we are now, in Pamukkale, Turkey.

Needless to say, Endymion forgot all about his flocks after meeting this divine beauty. The time to milk his sheep came and went, came and went, and the milk flowed over the entire area.

"When looked at from a distance, the milk can still be seen lying where it fell, and the prospect seems to carry the onlooker into the land of dreams," the ancient writer Smyrnaeus tells us at the end of his story. "On coming a little closer it appears to be water that has suddenly been frozen solid, but when one comes right up to it, one realizes that the whole thing is nothing but a layer of rock."

If Smyrnaeus were a modern writer, the story he made up about this amazing place may have had a different plot. "The giant Stay-Puff marshmallow man meets bomb terrorist Ben Laden -and loses." Or maybe we'd see the headlines on April Fools' Day: "Frat party shaving cream fight gets out of hand in Western Anatolia, burying small village."

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A cotton castle or another planet? The steam makes this place look wierd!

When Jasmine and I arrived last night and headed up the hill, walking along snow-white cliffs next to a babbling, steaming brook, I shared with her the mythology of Pamukkale-which means "castle of cotton." (I left out the one about the Stay-Puff marshmallow man. It's a little too graphic for her young ears.) But this, of course, is an educational website, so you probably want to know the explanation of how this wonder was formed, in terms of the modern mythology of science.


fault line - a fracture in the earth's crust with displacement of one side with respect to the other
precipitate - to separate from a solution as a solid
seismic - of, subject to, or caused by an earthquake or earth vibration
stalactites - icicle-shaped mineral deposits, usually calcite or aragonite, hanging from the roof of a cavern, and formed from the dripping of mineral-rich water
suitor - a man who is courting a woman
travertine - light-colored porous calcite, CaCO3, deposited from solution in ground or surface waters and forming, among other deposits, stalactites and stalagmites

If you haven't noticed in the news lately-or from your diligent studies of the Odyssey website-Turkey is located in an area with a lot of seismic activity. Fault lines criss-cross the country like cobwebs on that old three-speed in your grandma's garage. This leads to lots of earthquakes and strange gurgles from below as the plates of the earth fight for the right to support Asia Minor.

Mineral-laden hot water springs from the ground along the fault line here. One nearby area flows red with iron-rich water, but the springs that make the Pamukkale travertines (as they're technically known) are rich in calcium-you know, the stuff in milk that "builds strong teeth and bones." Does that mean we're walking along a huge tumor of earth-bone? Or Anatolia's molars?

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I always wondered what
The travertines are off limits to protect them from pesky humans.

The pools where the water first emerges are clear blue, and 35 degrees Centigrade (about 95 degrees F). But it isn't until the water starts to flow downhill, bumping around and reacting with the oxygen in the air, that the carbon dioxide (CO2) gas escapes upwards, and the Calcium carbonate precipitates down, forming these odd travertines and stalactites that look like bowls of blue Kool-Aid overflowing with white icicles.

I'm glad we had such a beautiful time on the cotton castle last night, because today we were blessed with freezing rain. Blech. I needed photos for this article, so we had to go out in it. After hiking up the bizarre paths again, we reached the top, where the ancient Roman city of Hieropolis once thrived.

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Rain splatters the camera, almost hiding your view of the city below.

This town was founded as a healing center for the rich and ailing in 190 BCE by the king of Pergamum. The Cult of Heracles, the god of health and hot waters, thrived. Priests used the baths to heal patients of rheumatism, heart trouble, kidney problems, nervous disorders, and high blood pressure. This was one of the first health spas in the world!

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Steam rises off the natural pools as the icy rain hits them.

Today, people are no longer allowed to go splashing around in the travertines-it was too damaging to their fragile structure. But the pool that was the center of Hieropolis, at the source of one of the main springs, is open for visitors. Yippee!!! After a long hike in the FREEZING rain, we were soaked to the bone and about as grumpy as world trekkers get. But there, at the top, we found the sacred healing pool of Heracles.

We soaked, floated, giggled and splashed in the pool, playing on the bits of ancient Roman columns and temples that were strewn across the bottom (and knocking my shins on them a few times, too. Ouch!). The cold rain hit the hot water, making steam rise mystically around us. I don't have rheumatism, or heart problems, or any of the other ailments that they say this water cures, but it was just what the doctor ordered. We probably would not have stayed in for three whole hours, though, except that it was WAY too cold to get out in that rain. I admit it, we even missed our bus, and had to stay here in Pamukkale an extra night!

But eventually I needed to pee, and Jasmine was getting hungry, so we pulled our prune-like bodies out of the warm, soothing water and into the icy rain, and scampered off to the changing room. One look in the mirror at my rosy cheeks proved that another claim about these waters is true-they're supposed to make you beautiful! Ok, well, you judge for yourself from the pictures!

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Jasmine looses her balance posing for the camera on the slippery Roman ruins.

That reminds me of one last story I've heard about Pamukkale. Once upon a time, when the land was ruled by great lords and kings, there lived a young girl, who was both very poor and very ugly. She may have been kind and smart and funny and all of those things that are really important in the world, but these were, of course, not mentioned in the fairy tale. All that matters in fairy tales are looks, wealth, and status. Anyway, she never complained about her poverty nor her unfortunate looks, until she became old enough to marry. Not one man came to court her. Not one interested suitor asked for her hand.

What's a pathetic young fairy-tale character to do? She decided to commit suicide by throwing herself off the top of this mountain, which looks like a giant wedding cake decorated by a three-year-old. Down she plummeted, into one of the steamy, strange baths, and lay there, injured and unconscious, until the handsome young son of Lord Denizli, who happened to be passing by on his horse, came to her rescue.

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The water of Pamukkale makes women beautiful, see!

Of course, like the ugly duckling who grew into a swan, this magic water had turned our nameless heroine into the most beautiful woman in the land. The young lord threw her over the back of his horse, and carried her home. When she healed from all of her broken bones and bruises (sounds more like plastic surgery than miraculous waters to me!), they were married, and lived happily ever after-because she was beautiful and he was nobility, and that's all that matters in fairy tales, right?

- Abeja

p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Andrew - Welcome to the Underground (Turkish Style)
Jasmine - A Day at the Grand Bazaar
Kavitha - Istanbul's Beloved Jewel
Kavitha - Karina of Circassi Part III: In the Hotbed of Intrigue and Deceit
Monica - Troy Through the Eyes of a Thirteen-Year-Old
Jasmine - Black History Month continues...Dare To Dream!

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