Baden bei Wien
The Bohemian Spa Triangle
Karlovy Vary · Františkovy Lázně · Mariánské Lázně
Bad Ems · Baden-Baden · Bad Kissingen
City of Bath
Each of these eleven spa towns developed between 1700 and the 1930s around natural mineral springs, which acted as the catalyst for an innovative model of spatial organisation dedicated to curative, therapeutic and social functions.
These fashionable resorts of health, leisure and sociability created architectural prototypes and an urban typology that has no earlier parallel. They were pioneers of nascent modern tourism.
‘Taking the cure’, externally and internally, was complemented by related visitor facilities and spa-specific support infrastructure integrated into an overall urban context that includes a carefully managed recreational and therapeutic environment all set within a picturesque spa landscape.
Great Spas of Europe marks the greatest developments in the traditional medical uses of springs by Enlightenment physicians across Europe, including those pioneering western diagnostic medicine.
As an ensemble of elite places in terms of scientific, political, social and cultural achievements, The Great Spas contributed to the transformation of European society through the reduction of the gap between the social elite and a growing middle class. The spa towns hosted major political events and their special creative atmosphere inspired works of high-art in music, literature and painting that are of outstanding universal significance.
Effective long-term management, including economic and medical progress has succeeded in controlling growth and maintaining an original purpose and enduring atmosphere. This sustainable function, as dependable curative venues for body, mind and spirit, has ensured a continuing living tradition with its outstanding contribution to European culture, behaviour and customs.
To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value (OUV) and meet at least one of UNESCO’s ten selection criteria. The Great Spas of Europe meets four of the ten – ii, iii, iv and vi.
UNESCO’s Criteria for Selection ‘To exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design.’
The influence of the property on modern European towns Through their pioneering urban planning and architectural prototypes, the property profoundly influenced the physical development of European towns between the 18th and 20th centuries. Equally, developments in science, medicine, nature and art were, in turn, influenced by the continuous flow of ideas emanating from these hothouses of experiment and debate.
UNESCO’s Criteria for Selection ‘To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared’
Spa towns and health The property bears testimony to a holistic attitude to health that developed around spas. ‘Taking the cure’ comprised not just diagnoses and prescription, but diet and exercise, entertainment, leisure and pleasure – a microcosm of Enlightenment values, a culture in its own right, and a precursor of the modern welfare state and health tourism.
UNESCO’s Criteria for Selection “To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”
A unique urban typology The property is an outstanding example of a new urban typology – the ‘spa town’ – a configuration of high-quality architecture, town planning and landscape design, arranged according to the physical location of natural mineral springs, and inextricably entwined with the cultural evolution of ‘taking the cure’ and modern tourism.
UNESCO’s Criteria for Selection ‘to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria)
Vectors of transnational culture As transnational vectors of social, political and artistic ideas, the property reflects the religious and social freedom of the Enlightenment, helping to shape Europe. Spa towns were sources of artistic patrons and inspiration for works of universal significance, many of them conceived, performed or exhibited here for the first time.
Ancient Romans, whose legacy remains paramount in the constitution of European bathing culture, bequeathed practices that mark both the oriental tradition – embodied in the hammam, and the western tradition – that is, spas that are not only for bathing but also for therapeutic activities such as hydrotherapy and massage, and for the presence of libraries and sports facilities.
More than a true functional model, the Roman baths have fed the modern imagination in western Europe and often inspired architects, due to their luxury and the quality of décor. As well as works of art, there were swimming pools made of precious marble and high vaults with frescoes. This type of monumental building was specific to the Roman city, which already offered a multi-functional role, both hygienic and cultural.
Sometimes this has been adapted to the rural setting of the mineral and thermal springs. The Romans identified and used these abundant resources throughout the Empire. Indeed they were often the embryos of cities such as Aachen, Acqui Terme, Aix-en-Provence, Aix-les-Bains, Baden-Baden and Bath.
It’s interesting to note that the notion of a network of spas has existed since ancient times, as illustrated by the famous Tabula Peutingeriana, a map preserved in Vienna and inscribed in 2007 in the UNESCO Register, Memory of the World.
This medieval copy of a Roman map shows the Empire‘s routes from the Atlantic to China and uses symbols to identify connected cities. Among these symbols is a quadrangular building symbolizing spas. Most of the place names consist of the word Aquae or Aquis – meaning ‘the waters’. However, although Aquis Calidis (Vichy) is accompanied by the spa symbol, Aquis Solis (Bath) is not.
The network also covered North Africa including Aquae Calidae, the current Hammam Righa in Algeria. But the function of thermae, with their programme of a series of rooms with different temperatures, delivered by a hypocaust and several pools with water at a variety of temperatures, did not survive the decline of the Roman empire in western Europe. It was the rediscovery of Roman baths from the late 18th century onwards, which led to new bathhouses offering ‘Roman’ or ‘Roman-Irish’ sequencies. Another Roman legacy is the link between health and leisure, exemplified in the famous luxurious resort Baïes near Naples (Moldoveanu 2000), and this model is at the heart of The Great Spas of Europe.
Edmond Paulin, Thermes de Dioclétien, restitution, 1880, Prais, Ensb-a.