European spas in the late Middle Ages and at the beginning of the early modern period
The long tradition of European watering places began with the Roman baths. However, there were few direct connections between the Roman tradition and the interest in thermal waters and baths that reemerged in the late Middle Ages and early modern period in different areas of Europe – from , (Aquae Sulis), (Aquae Calidae), (Aquae Mattiacae), and others were Roman baths. Their traditions ceased, however, with the collapse of the and were revived only in the later Middle Ages.1 From the late 14th century onward, "spa travel" to such re-discovered or even newly discovered healing springs developed into a "new pattern of spa behavior" in .2 Many of these watering places, such as in the Black Forest or (Carlsbad in Bohemia), were located outside of fortified cities and towns and thus presented a variety of perils for spa guests. The most famous example is the attack on Count Eberhard II of Württemberg (1315–1392) and his son Ulrich (1343–1388) in Wildbad in 1367.3 With this in mind, and in view of the increasing popularity of spa travel, numerous spas saw fundamental change during the 15th century. Usually at the behest of their respective rulers, these watering places were fortified with walls and defined as independent legal districts. Spa ordinances were also issued.4 Bathing pools were built, as were hostels and other accommodations for guests. Moreover, already in the late Middle Ages spas had become sites for diverse forms of recreation and social interactions, which were combined with healing practices by spa-goers.5 In humanist circles, for example, spa gifts were often "little literary presents" designed to contribute to the spa visitors' leisure and amusement.6to . Aachen (Aquae Grani), (Aquae Aureliae)
The older historiography often argued that the rise of spas was directly related to the decline of bathhouses in cities and, in particular, to the actions of urban authorities against these establishments in the late Middle Ages and the beginning of the early modern period.7 In fact, spas and urban bathhouses existed alongside each other between the 14th and 16th centuries, and the reasons for the decline of the latter were manifold.8 Still, contemporaries did consider the natural warm waters of the thermal baths to have considerably greater healing power than artificially prepared baths.
Balneology and spa practices
Balneology, the science of healing waters and baths, had already been developing in9 At the dawn of the modern era, balneological compendia and treatises on individual spas quickly appeared in European native languages, alongside the balneological treatises in Latin primarily addressed to physicians. The former were aimed at a lay audience seeking information on the range of available spas and healing waters. They also served as a "guide to self-medication."10 Well-known balneological compendia in German include: Dises puchlein saget uns von allen paden die von natur heisz sein by the Nuremberg Meistersinger and barber surgeon Hans Folz (1435–1513) published in the late 15th century; the Tractat der Wildbeder natuer by the physician Lorenz Fries (1489–1531) of 1519; Paracelsus' (1493–1541) Badenfahrt Büchlin of 1566, and Jacobus Theodorus' (1522–1590) Neuw Wasserschatz of 1581.11 The English-language tradition of balneological treatises began with William Turner's (1508–1568) A booke of the natures and properties as well of the bathes in England as of other bathes in Germany and Italy of 1562.12 Balneology became an important branch of the medical sciences in the early modern period and enjoyed ongoing prominence in the 19th century when professorships of hydropathy were established at European universities.13since the 13th century, but it was not until the 15th century that balneological texts were received north of the Alps.
Throughout this period, the balneological instructions to visitors were based on dietetics, the basic rules for a regulated, balanced lifestyle to maintain health or cure illness. Galen (129–199) had summarized this Hippocratic approach in the "sex res non naturales" (the six things non-natural): light and air, food and drink, work and rest, sleep and wakefulness, excretions and secretions, and the states of mind. Dietetics was propagated by physicians in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the early modern period and to the laity in a variety of ways.14 As a result, dietetics also found its way into balneology and became an integral part of physicians' instructions for a successful "spring water cure" (Brunnenkur). Every early modern spa treatise contains a chapter on dietetics.15 The dietetics of balneology combined general dietetics with the specifics of spring water cures: they provide instructions on proper eating and a balanced state of mind, but also on the length of bathing times and the number of glasses to drink. Failure to comply with these rules, physicians warned, would make the healing water ineffective. Over the course of the early modern period, the emphasis of dietetics changed. In contrast to the balneological treatises of the 16th and 17th centuries that centered primarily on food and drink, the 18th century saw a shift toward the "dietetics of the soul." Spa guests were to avoid work as well as all forms of overexertion or excitement (for example through gambling). In general, stressful moods and sensations endangered a successful spa cure. Overall, dietetics now occupied considerably less space in guidebooks and treatises about spas. It did not, however, lose its legitimacy until well into the 19th century. Dietetics was, after all, deeply embedded in the world views of both early modern physicians and laypeople.16
During the late Middle Ages and at the beginning of the early modern period, spas typically offered bathing pools. Those bathing pools that were intended for the use of the common people were initially open to the elements, but were increasingly covered. While separate indoor baths were provided for the upper classes, these were also used in groups and there was often no gender separation.17 The recommended bathing durations were long – four to ten hours a day – until the so-called "bathing rash" appeared. According to the contemporary notion of the skin's permeability, this rash was considered a sign of internal cleansing and thus the beginning of healing.18 Over the course of the late sixteenth and early 17th centuries, water cures at spas underwent two fundamental changes that had a significant impact on the history of spas during the remainder of the early modern period. On the one hand, people's interests shifted from thermal waters to acidulous springs and other cold mineral waters, the so-called "health springs" (Gesundbrunnen). The number of water springs available for curative purposes thus grew considerably. At the same time, the drinking cure and the "shower" (Dusche) were gradually introduced as a supplement to the bathing cure.19 In the 17th century, the drinking cure became the most common type of treatment. Nevertheless, the bathing cure – with greatly reduced bathing durations of one to two hours – remained an essential part of a spa visit. Even in the 18th century, a bathhouse was still regarded as necessary for a newly built spa. The overall framework for taking baths changed significantly, however. The aristocracy and the bourgeoisie no longer bathed in communal pools, but rather in individual bathtubs or chambers. The poor, in contrast, continued to use communal baths for some time.20 In the 19th century, mud or clay baths and various other types of therapies, including baths with ash or spruce needles, greatly expanded spa treatments.21
What is a spa?
In modern German, the terms for watering places, Badeort, Kurort, Kurstadt, Bad, Heilbad, Gesundbrunnen, and others are often used synonymously. The usage of such terms in our primary sources, however, allows us to identify certain chronological trends that point to decisive stages of development. Until around 1800, the term used to describe spas with thermal springs was Wildbäder (wild baths). It is a common misunderstanding in the secondary literature that this term referred to the spas' location "in wild nature."22 In fact, numerous Wildbäder were located in cities, for example Aachen, Karlovy Vary, Wiesbaden, and Baden-Baden. Rather, the term Wildbäder referred to the "wild," i.e. "natural," origins of the warm healing waters.23 In contrast, the terms Sauerbrunnen (also acidulae or eau minerale), acidulous springs, and Gesundbrunnen, health springs, were used to describe the newly fashionable cold medicinal waters. Increasingly, the usage of the word Gesundbrunnen (health spring) was broadened to denote the spas themselves, and it became the most widely used term to designate spas in central Europe in the 18th century. At the same time, the German term Kur (literally "cure") took root and was used ever more frequently in word compounds like Kurgast (spa guest) and Kurort (spa resort or spa town) by the end of the 18th century. In English, the term "spa" (or "spaw") gradually became more common during the early modern period. The term derived from in the prince-bishopric of , a watering place already known to the English in the 16th century. The growing use of the word in treatises on watering places led to its acceptance as a generic term.24
The presence of supposedly curative springs and water treatments was not sufficient to define a spa. Indeed, healing waters were ubiquitous in Europe, and their various interpretations were based on processes of social negotiation and reflected in different societal practices. Fundamental processes in early modern society such as confessionalization influenced the way healing springs were interpreted. In early modern Germany a distinction was drawn between Catholic pilgrimage sites with holy wells, Lutheran miracle wells, and "profane" spas.25 In Protestant England, meanwhile, the miraculous springs of the Middle Ages increasingly gave way to spas following the Reformation.26
Unlike many places with healing springs, which included Bauernbäder (peasant baths) with a local catchment area and minimal infrastructure,27 spa resorts offered their seasonal guests urban amenities – goods, services, and infrastructure – that went beyond medical treatments. This included a wide range of amusements and leisure activities, which were closely linked to the spa resort's architectural and spatial configuration.28 Spa resorts nevertheless varied greatly in size and legal status. Often, they were not towns in the legal sense of the word. Their various forms ranged from spa districts in a large imperial city such as Aachen to medium-sized and small towns and villages as well as facilities in the open countryside. In contrast to England, where private initiatives and private investors played a central role in the development of spas, the vast majority of spas in central Europe were founded by princes and dominated by the princely court. Few spas were under the supervision of municipal authorities (Aachen, Karlovy Vary) or can be described as purely private enterprises ( ).29
A successful spa resort had a catchment area that was at least regional or supra-regional, if not international. Its degree of urbanity, especially its cultural urbanity, was determined by the – more or less sophisticated – demands of its guests. The social status of the spa guests also determined the geographical reach of the spa's catchment area: spas with Europe-wide or at least supra-regional significance attracted numerous guests from the high nobility, while spas with only regional significance usually had a clientele belonging chiefly to the middle and upper middle classes. While some spas in central Europe were "residence spas" (Residenzkurorte) with only noble visitors, most of the established spas were regularly frequented by people from the middle and lower middle classes, by peasants and the poor. These social groups, however, were systematically separated from the spa society of the higher classes.30 In addition, many members of the lower social classes were present at the spas as servants – both in the health and recreational facilities and as attendants to the spa guests from the aristocracy and the upper middle class.31 Thus, spas were subject to extreme variation in population, social structure, and availability of goods and services over the course of the year.32
The leading spa resorts of the early modern period and the 19th century were gathering places and centers of social life for the higher social classes of Europe.33 Here, European high nobility, lower nobility or gentry, and the rising bourgeoisie – the haute bourgeoisie – converged and engaged in social interactions that were supposed to be inclusive.34 Bath, the leading spa resort in England, was a permanent fixture in the annual itinerary of the English elites, who regularly alternated between their country estates, , and the spa.35 Karlovy Vary was an international spa as well as a meeting place for the elites of the Habsburg hereditary lands.36 In the early modern German empire, spas served as social hubs for the elite and thus helped to offset the lack of a metropolis. For example, as a leading spa resort of the 18th century, functioned as an important meeting place for the elites of the northern German territories – a function that was not fulfilled by the residence or university towns.37 Consequently, spas also operated as marriage markets and places for professional networking, especially for the bourgeoisie. They were a venue for freemasons, diplomats, and statesmen alike.38 Spas repeatedly served as spaces for political meetings and (secret) negotiations throughout the early modern period and the 19th century. Notable in this context are, among others, the Pyrmont "Summer of Princes" (Fürstensommer) of 1681, during which the North German princes negotiated their stance on the reunion policy of Louis XIV (1638–1715),39 the Congress of of 1786, the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819, the "League of the Three Emperors" meeting in Baden-Baden in 1872, and of course the Ems Dispatch in 1870.40
In addition to its typical spatial configuration, which I will describe below, the spa resort also had a specific temporal structure. While in the 16th and 17th centuries spring and fall were also regarded as seasons for bathing, in the 18th century the custom of summer spa travel prevailed. This became a fixed part of the annual calendar of both the nobility and the middle class. As a rule, the spa season extended from June to August. Significant numbers of guests, however, visited only from mid-June to mid-August, with July generally considered to be peak season. Spa visitors usually stayed between three and six weeks. A spa visit of four weeks was fairly common, although it was not unusual for people to stay for more than six weeks.41 "The everyday life away from everyday life" at the spa was characterized by a fixed routine. Spa guests used (mostly drank) the healing waters, enjoyed meals, and participated in group and individual activities in and around the spa. This ritualization of the daily routine provided social cohesion through a shared purpose.42
The geography and hierarchy of European spas and their transformation
In 16th- and early 17th-century Europe, the hierarchy of spas and the spa map in the minds of contemporaries differed significantly from those of the late 17th and 18th centuries. This changed again fundamentally during the late 18th and early 19th century. It is important to note that prior to the 19th centuries, the healing power of a water spring was based primarily on observation and experience – both by physicians and laypeople. Thus, the "healing power" of a water was an ascribed quality established by social consensus. As a result, the waters of some of the popular spas of the early modern period later proved to have no healing properties, such as 43near .
In the 16th and early 17th centuries, when bathing cures took center stage, the spas visited by – and thus firmly anchored in the perception of – central Europeans included , and places in such as and Leukerbad.44 Leading spas in the empire in the first half of the early modern period were Wildbad in the Black Forest, Wiesbaden, and Aachen. As thermal waters and bathing cures became less important and cold mineral waters and drinking cures rose to prominence, the spa map began to change. Looking at the entire European continent, we see that England in particular, and to some extent central Europe, were at the forefront of a new early modern development that combined healing and recreation. Italian spas did not undergo a resurgence until the 18th century, when Peter Leopold of Habsburg-Lorraine (1747–1792), Grand Duke of Tuscany, promoted spas such as and .45 Spas in Switzerland and , for example in der Schweiz and , were known regionally but did not gain international recognition until the 19th century.46 The French watering places of the 17th century also seem to have been mainly places of healing rather than of recreation. In any event, members of the French royal family made regular trips to spas, and toward the end of the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century, French spas expanded as well. Vichy, for instance, subsequently developed into an international spa resort in the 19th century.47in , northern Italian watering places such as
England and central Europe experienced similar trends insofar as an upswing during the late 16th and early 17th centuries was interrupted in the mid-17th century by war – namely, the English Civil War and the Thirty Years' War. Subsequently, both regions saw continuous expansion from the late 17th century onward. In central Europe, however, the Seven Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars again caused disruptions. In England, spas such as Bath, , , and developed in the late sixteenth and early 17th centuries. While these spas – and especially Bath – continued to thrive, the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a wave of new establishments, especially in the west, the Midlands, and the north of England.48 In central Europe, the network of supra-regionally known spas in the early modern period ranged from Spa and Aachen in the west to Karlovy Vary and in the east, from Pyrmont in the north to the spas in and the Black Forest in the south. As a spa with a drinking cure, in the Taunus experienced a veritable boom at the end of the sixteenth century. While Spa and Aachen attracted an international audience in the early modern period, they also suffered negative effects from the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Pyrmont and Karlovy Vary gained prominence in the 17th century, then emerged as the leading spa resorts of the 18th century.49 18th-century spas in both England and central Europe benefited from modern means of access in the form of newly built roads like turnpikes and highways (called chaussees in German) and the related expansion of regular passenger transport by stagecoach.50
The map of spas with supra-regional recognition in central Europe expanded dramatically in the late 18th and especially in the 19th century. At that time, Mariánské Lázně in , numerous spas in , and , in Austria and Switzerland, as well as many salt producing towns of the early modern period burst onto the scene. The changed perception of the natural landscape, which I will describe below, as well as the ever-growing influx of visitors, caused the number of spas to increase dramatically. In addition, some spas that had been of secondary importance in the 18th century now developed into "international spa resorts" (Weltbäder). Typical examples of this trend are Baden-Baden, Ems, and Wiesbaden.51 The number of spa visitors in the 19th century soon shattered early modern dimensions. Wiesbaden, for example, recorded 5,779 guests in 1813, but more than 10,000 in 1817. Baden-Baden registered an even stronger increase in the number of visitors. Spa resorts flourished in the 19th century because their development was spurred by systematic architectural expansion and their early connection to the railroad system.52
Architectural and spatial characteristics of spas
In contemporary illustrations of 16th- and 17th-century spas, leisure facilities already featured prominently. Thus, an engraving of the Bavarian Matthaeus Merian's (1593–1650) Topographia Bavariae shows both an enclosed garden and a nine-pin bowling alley for the use of spa guests. The so-called Boller Landtafel, a view of the , which was included in the New Badbuch by Johannes Bauhin (1541–1613) published in 1602, depicts elaborate and wide-ranging spa amusements in an idealized fashion.53 A large enclosed spa garden is located behind the lodging and bath house, and on the right side of the image, we see activities like bowling (again!) and dancing as well as vendor stalls. In addition, the diversions depicted in the Boller Landtafel include a steeplechase and hunting, which was, of course, an exclusively aristocratic pursuit.54in
Since the middle of the 17th century and even more so in the late 18th century, spas had to fulfill certain expectations with regard to their spatial make-up in order to be successful. This development coincided with the gradual increase in the number of spa visitors, a process that was closely connected with the rise of the bourgeoisie – first in England and then in central Europe.55 As an anonymous author wrote in the St. James' Chronicle in 1790: "Every watering place is a kind of urbs in rure."56 This statement reveals that a successful spa resort had to offer the trappings of urban life, such as a theater, a coffeehouse, a library or a bookstore, and an adequate supply of luxury goods, while at the same time providing the amenities of a rural sojourn in the form of promenades, English gardens, and outings into the surrounding countryside. There also had to be appropriate accommodations for spa guests, with the lodging houses of the early modern period gradually transforming into modern hotels, as well as various buildings typical of a spa: assembly halls that served a range of functions as dance halls and dining halls, as venues for theatrical performances and reading rooms, and as casinos and gambling halls; well pavilions and bathhouses; and places for games and exercise. In the 19th century, spas began to feature bandstands and increasingly elaborate drinking halls and sports facilities, including horse racing tracks.57 In the leading English spa of Bath, the construction of elegant houses and apartments for spa guests began as early as the mid-1720s – the most famous example certainly being the (Royal) Crescent, which was completed in the 1770s.58 The great continental spas of the 19th century – Baden-Baden, Karlovy Vary, Spa, Vichy, and Wiesbaden, among others – offered their aristocratic and upper middle-class guests the opportunity to build their own homes in newly constructed villa districts.59
The spatial perception of the European spas, especially of the continental spas of the early modern period and the 19th century, was also decisively shaped by the surrounding landscape. From the late 18th century onward, the success of spa resorts depended in no small measure on their ability to accommodate the fundamental shift in the landscape ideal that occurred at this time. Throughout the early modern period and even into the 1750s and 1760s, the ideal spa had to have as many urban features as possible, while the surrounding landscape needed to be cultivated with gently rolling hills and fields. Spas whose natural surroundings did not conform to this landscape ideal, like Karlovy Vary, emphasized instead the urban character of their interior spaces. Accordingly, from the 16th to the beginning of the 18th century, an avenue or a garden conforming to the strict geometric organization of the French garden ideal satisfied the spatial expectations for walks.60
The new garden ideal of the English landscape garden and the growing alpine enthusiasm of the late 18th century had a profound impact on the spatial perception of the spa. While spa visitors still expected to be provided with urban services and amusements, the spatial ideal of the spa became more rural. The first step in this process was the integration of English landscape gardens into the spa setting. Increasingly, new expectations regarding the spa's surroundings, which were now supposed to be mountainous and wildromantisch (wild and romanic) took hold. Thus, beginning in the late 18th century and even more so in the 19th century, the spa was no longer defined only by its interior space, but also by its surrounding landscape. This shift had two additional consequences: On the one hand, it led to a change in practices, so that "hiking" in mountainous terrain was now on a par with "walking" in the spa interior. On the other hand, it fundamentally expanded the central European spa map. At the beginning of the 19th century, many less popular spas of the early modern period succeeded in attracting ever more guests because of their mountainous settings. These spas were situated in the German Mittelgebirge, the Black Forest, the Harz Mountains, Saxon Switzerland, Austria, and Switzerland. Consequently, the perception and description of spa resorts was the first step toward a modern tourism and vacation discourse.61
Seaside resorts as a new type of spa
Seaside resorts emerged in England in the 18th century as a new type of spa that embodies the trend toward a modern discourse on tourism and vacation. By the middle of the 18th century, a new, more positive perception of the sea began to take hold in England. While physicians propagated the healing effects of the cold sea water, ocean views and the beach were now perceived as "picturesque." People enjoyed looking at the sea from atop a hill, as it offered a panoramic vantage point.62 In the newly established seaside resorts – most notably , followed by – "sea bathing" and walks on the beach were cultivated as new practices.63 Nevertheless, seaside resorts continued to model their leisure facilities and cultural and social life on inland spas such as Bath. Gradually, however, the new practices and the shift in the spatial structure of the emerging seaside resorts – where houses were now built to face the sea and piers extended into the sea – spread to other European countries.64 Seaside resorts sprang up on the German Baltic and North Sea coasts (beginning with Doberan-Heiligendamm in 1794, followed by the first North Sea resort, ),65 in ( , , later ), Belgium ( ) and the ( ). The number of seaside resorts exploded over the course of the 19th century and seaside resorts became common across Europe. In , for example, the number of seaside resorts increased from 58 to 98 between 1870 and 1900, and by the turn of the twentieth century, 39 percent of spa guests stayed at seaside resorts rather than inland spas.66
The spa resorts of the early modern period and the 19th century represented a specific urban lifestyle, which combined a range of different social, cultural, and health functions. The number of places with water springs that people ascribed healing properties to is disproportionately larger than the actual number of spas. Spa resorts were simultaneously places of health preservation or healing, venues for social encounters and consumption, sites of amusement, and, later on, central hubs of the emerging practice of tourism. The architecture and spatial structure of the spa as well as the spa's surrounding landscape were subject to certain normative expectations that were closely connected to the rise of a "tourist gaze." While spas existed throughout Europe, beginning in the later 16th century, England and central Europe were at the forefront of the development of spa resorts. Starting in the late 18th century and again in the 19th century, the continental European spa map expanded rapidly. In the wake of alpine enthusiasm, spas with mountainous surroundings became popular. Many salt producing towns of the early modern period were also transformed into spas. Moreover, seaside resorts emerged on the Baltic and North Sea coasts. A number of spas, including Ems, Wiesbaden, and Baden-Baden, became international spas (Weltbäder) with an exploding number of guests.