Great Spa Towns of Europe

Great Spa Towns of Europe is not just
a monument, but a whole philosophy…

Great Spa Towns of Europe is a group of eleven spa towns across seven countries that has been inscribed on the World Heritage List as a transnational serial ‘property’.

Each of these eleven spa towns developed between the 1700s and the 1930s around natural mineral springs, whereas their exploitation resulted in an innovative model combining unique urbanism, specific architectural typology, and park landscaping with a holistic approach to health and spending leisure time in the picturesque spa landscape. The combination of all these factors influenced intellectual, artistic, social and political development of the entire European society. In the past, spas hosted important political meetings and their environment inspired renowned artists in their works, which are present in the spa towns to this day. Affecting the body, mind and soul, spa procedures thus provide continued benefits to the European culture, mentality, health, and customs.

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Mariánské Lázně (Czech Republic) 

Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad) – founded in the early 19th century period of Classicism – is one of the most spacious spa towns in Europe. The town’s planners turned the surrounding, unpleasant swampy valley into a charming place of parks, with Classicist and Empire houses, gloriettes, pavilions and colonnades.

The core of the spa town is a central park with the Spa Colonnade in the wider part of the forested valley. The spa ensemble encircles this central park, rising to the surrounding hills and along the valley floor. Classicist spa buildings dominate the architectural concept of the town. Spa architecture, houses and villas dating back to the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century prevail. They represent a variety of architectural styles ranging from Historicism to Art Nouveau.

Well-preserved spa treatment buildings and hotels, as well as various structures above the springs and colonnades, form the town’s most characteristic vistas. The international significance of the town is reflected in its churches of various denominations. The character of spa classifies it as one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan spa towns.

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Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic)

Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) is the biggest spa town in the Czech Republic with a high concentration of natural thermal springs. The spa area spreads out across a deep, picturesque valley of the Teplá River, surrounded by a steep gorge of rocky outcrops and forested hills offering impressive prospect vantage points.

This picturesque ensemble was created between the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, in the styles of Historicism and Art Nouveau by the world-renowned design studio of F. Fellner and H. Helmer from Vienna, the great visionaries who anticipated the importance of Karlovy Vary.

As well as the concentrated and compact spa hotels and boarding houses in the valley, the town is characterized by noble villa districts on the slopes of the valley and in the more distant suburbs. The complex is complemented by parks and forests containing a number of outstanding solitary pavilions, including outlook towers and summerhouses, complemented with an extensive network of trails and rides.

Karlovy Vary is cosmopolitan in character, atmospheric and stylish. The spa clientele comprised European heads-of-states and royal families, noblemen, statesmen and politicians, famous writers, music composers and scientists. The international significance of the town is reflected in churches of several faiths.

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Bad Ems (Germany)

Thermal springs and a picturesque natural setting are the reason this site, known by the Romans, has maintained a high profile throughout history. The rise of Bad Ems to a prosperous spa town can be seen in individual, well preserved buildings from the late 17th century, the time when the spa industry experienced a substantial boom. The most notable buildings from this period are the Kurhaus, the two grand guest houses Mainzer Haus and Zu den vier Türmen, as well as the Kapelle Maria Königin. The town is dominated by a number of buildings dating back to the 19th century when Bad Ems was one of the most significant spas in Germany. In Römerstraße, running parallel to the right bank, a number of buildings have survived from the times of the Duchy of Nassau, including the prominent Kursaalgebäude and Kurmittelhaus. The present-day townscape of Bad Ems is characterized by the grand villas located in Wilhelmsallee and the promenade on the left bank of the river such as Schloss Balmoral and Villa Monrepos. The structures that have survived to this day include not only the actual spa buildings, but also other facilities that had been of great importance to the spa industry. The Malbergbahn funicular, for example, a typical 19th century facility for leisure and recreation. Through the centuries, this romantic site, embedded in a harmonic bend of the river Lahn, seduced scores of artists, regularly hosted kings and tsars, and was the backdrop to the famous Emser Depesche (Ems Dispatch), which sparked the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

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Bad Kissingen (Germany)

Bad Kissingen is on the banks of the Fränkische Saale. After 1815, the Bavarian State invested heavily in the spa district, causing an enormous economic upswing in the fortunes of Bad Kissingen. The royal court architect Friedrich von Gärtner built the Kursaal, followed by the new cast-iron pavilion over the two important springs of Rakoczi and Pandur. For the spa’s drinking regimen he constructed arcades and a depot for storing jars of the widely-known Kissingen mineral water. The boom in the spa industry which followed led to the construction of several bathing establishments, beginning with the Salinenbad in 1842, then the Kurhausbad and the Luitpoldbad. The foundation of the German Empire and a link to the railway system in 1871 gave the spa town another significant boost. Ecclesiastical buildings of different denominations, among them a Russian Orthodox church, bear witness to intercultural exchange. The town also developed into a meeting place for artists and writers. New and highly representative spa buildings were commissioned, including a spa theatre, the Wandelhalle walk with an integrated pump room, and Regent’s House as an assembly room for the noble spa society. An intricate network of garden and parkland developed around the spa area, with the landscape gardens of the Kurpark, the Altenberg, the Luitpoldpark and the Rosengarten. From the early 19th century, the spa town spread out over the surrounding landscape, eventually coming to include promenades along the river and footpaths into the woods leading to popular restaurants, noteworthy natural sites and scenic lookout points.

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Baden Baden (Germany)

Baden-Baden, on the western outskirts of the Black Forest, is without doubt one of the most important spa centres in Europe. Bathing in Baden-Baden is a tradition dating back to Roman times. The city was systematically redeveloped as a modern spa town from the early 19th century. Located in the valley of the river Oos, the town extends to the slopes of the surrounding landscape. It is composed of several areas of specific types of buildings and ensembles which represents one of the most internationally famous and frequented spa of the 19th century – ‘The Summer Capital of Europe’. The historic bath district incorporates the twelve thermal springs, the Roman bath ruins, a rare example of a baroque bath inside the New Castle, and finally the Friedrichsbad (1877) – all testament to the innovative balneology of the late 19th century. There is a well-preserved new spa district. This includes one of the earliest preserved European example of a Kurhaus , built by Friedrich Weinbrenner which was originally called the Trinkhalle (1839-42) by Heinrich Hübsch, and the Theatre (1860-62), designed by French architects. Among further areas representing the great spa town are several villa districts with churches and temples representing different religions. There are also a wide number of great historic hotels, such as Badischer Hof (1807) which is known as the first Grand Hotel in Germany, as well as parks and green spaces. Internationally-renowned artists, composers including Hector Berlioz, Jacques Offenbach, Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann, and writers such as Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky had a further impact on Baden-Baden’s special atmosphere.

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Baden bei Wien (Austria)

Known in Roman times as Aquae in Baden, the health cure developed here as a combination of medicine and entertainment. From 1792, Baden entered into a golden age with the reign of Emperor Franz II/I , leading to the creation of the internationally famous spa resort of the 1900s. Renowned architects such as Louis Montoyer, Charles Moreau and Joseph Kornhäusel formed the townscape. The spa gardens, the town centre with the imperial residence and the town hall, the Biedermeier baths and the Sauerhof are evidence of this period. The Arcadian landscape of the Helen Valley attracts countless visitors to this day. Ludwig van Beethoven spent many summers in Baden and composed numerous works, including his Symphony No. 9, while Clemens Lothar Wenzel Prince Metternich planned the Congress of Vienna together with Emperor Franz in the Palais Attems (today’s Café Central). The Emperor and his brothers established summer residences in the spa town. Until the end of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy the Habsburgs remained a defining element of Baden. The town’s inclusion on the railway network in 1840 reduced the journey time from Vienna to under an hour. Every summer, high nobility, financial-aristocracy, high-ranking officialdom and the military gave Baden the urbane flair of a metropolis. From 1885, the villas of these guests, together with characteristic spa resort buildings such as assembly rooms, hotels and the theatre made up an extraordinary urban ensemble. The pre-war boom continued until the Great Depression of 1929. The thermal bathing lido, pump rooms and the Krupka pleasure grounds of the spa gardens with the Beethoven temple are an important contribution to Baden’s substantial contribution as one of The Great Spas of Europe.

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Spa (Belgium) 

The word ‘spa’ has a long balneological history. It is said to be derived from Latin, demonstrating that this unique natural resource has been recognised since the 1st century. The reputation of the waters of ‘Spa’ are such that it has been exported throughout Europe since the end of the 16th century and now globally. It was then during the 18th century that medical prescriptions for crenotherapy were first linked with healthy pursuits such as amusement, leisure and walking. After Tsar Peter the Great took ‘the cure’ in 1717, Spa became a fashionable rendezvous for European aristocracy. The ‘spa’ function influenced the development of the town, which evolved organically around its main spring and extended beyond to the distant springs in the surrounding landscape and forests. The network of promenades linking these springs offers views of the neighbouring hills and is designed to emphasise the links between nature and thermal cures. This therapeutic and recreational landscape is still visible and much used today. The protection of the water has, since the end of the 18th century, had a considerable effect on the evolution of the landscape and the development of the town. Spa has all the attributes of an authentic spa town: numerous springs and their pavilions, surrounded by modest and intimate pleasure gardens; a spa quarter including thermal baths, casino and meeting places, parks and gardens, hotels and villas; and the entire therapeutic spa landscape with its relationship to the peaceful and picturesque natural woodland that provides the backdrop to this most original of spa towns.

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Bath (Great Britain)

Bath has been a place of healing for over two thousand years. The Roman Baths, drawing upon the three Hot Springs, were followed by the monastic infirmary and medieval hospitals. After the 16th Century Reformation of the Church, the springs and baths were handed to the City Corporation, and from the 18th Century the baths were periodically renewed. The General Hospital (1739) provided treatment for the poor and advanced medical practices and diagnostic medicine. The Corporation promoted Bath for pleasure as well as for healing and so created an early tourist industry. Bath developed into one of Europe’s most fashionable resorts with the entire City remodelled in a neo-classical architectural style. Terraces, crescents, circus and squares were laid out with parks and gardens between 1720 and 1790. Visitor attractions including promenades, pleasure grounds and assembly rooms were built. Bath is the deliberate creation of a utopian city, bringing open-countryside right into the heart of the urban area. The surrounding countryside is also of exceptional quality and provided visitors with exercise through walks and rides. The city made a unique and special contribution to literacy, as it was the source of ideas and developments in natural philosophy and emerging science. It contributed to the spread of ideas of the Enlightenment and is testimony to an essential contribution to medical theories and practice. Today there is a high degree of survival of the authentic historic fabric, a continuing cultural tradition of wellbeing. Bath remains a thriving, beautiful and elegant spa city.

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Vichy (France) 

Located in Bourbonnais, on the banks of the river Allier, the waters of Vichy have been in use since Antiquity. Experiencing success from the 16th to the 18th century, they lead to the development, from the creation of the first park by Napoleon I and during the Second French Empire, of a thermal town that would serve as a model in terms of its urban organisation, based on the street plan radiating from the station towards the baths and parks, along with its prestigious architecture. Napoleon III accelerate its development as a destination of pleasure and leisure with the addition of the theatre and casino. Finally in 1903 the ensemble designed by Charles Lecoeur and Lucien Woog, containing the oriental baths, the splendid Art Nouveau opera house, pump rooms and gallerie arcades connecting to the grand hotels brought together all the diverse thermal and social functions of a great spa town. Vichy is renown for its palaces and villa districts, and the outlying sporting facilities such as the Hippodrome and the golf course on the opposite bank of the Allier. An eclectic architectural style was developed here through the construction of the baths, theatres, hotels and above all villas of all styles. The ‘queen of spa towns’ (‘reine des villes d’eaux’) – a slogan born in the 1900s – is still a world-famous place dominated by thermal and tourist activities.

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Montecatini Terme (Italy)

This most famous and sophisticated of all Italian spas, Montecatini Terme is found in Tuscany. It was Archduke Leopold I of Tuscany (Pietro Leopoldo) who began to use the sulphuric springs frequently during the late 18th century, thereby prompting the general development of the little town beneath the hill, as a new spa town destination. Officially, the origin of the spa dates to 1773. But the spa still has the atmosphere of the beginning of the 20th century, the era of its greatest prosperity, when most of the spa buildings, hotels and villas were built, including the baths, casinos, theatres, churches and private houses. In the centre of this spa town is a vast landscape park with numerous spa facilities. Among the most significant spa complexes there are Terme Tettuccio, Terme Regina, Terme Torretta, Terme Tamerici and Terme Excelsior. Especially typical of Montecatini Terme are its elegant colonnades, most of which were completed during the first half of the 20th century and led to the town being nick-named ‘the Italian Carlsbad’. Numerous celebrities visited Montecatini including actors, writers, music composers, artists, and royal families.

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Františkovy Lázně (Czech Republic)

Due to its size and quality of preserved buildings, Františkovy Lázně (Franzensbad) ranks amongst the most significant spa towns in Europe. The spa town was founded in 1793 close to the many acidulous springs. It was named after, and in honour of Emperor Franz II of Austria.

Although the spa town was established in the Classicist period, Františkovy Lázně represents an unusual concept of urban composition. The spa town being founded on a square ground plan with a parallel network of streets, and is characterized by a high concentration of Classicist, Empire and Historicism period houses of an exceptionally artistic and complex nature.

The ensemble of spa buildings of high architectural quality is surrounded by a large park in which individual, mainly Classicist structures and monuments are built above the springs. Surrounding the park there is a new town, composed of spa villas and houses, some in the Historicist style, and religious foundations of orthodox and evangelical denominations.