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National Spa Week

A brief history of Spa therapy

Soaking in 'thermal waters' is certainly not a recent discovery. Throughout the ages, the interest in 'taking to the waters' for health and medicinal purposes has intrigued nations for centuries.

There are many theories to the origins of the word 'Spa'. Some of the more favoured are that the word originates from the Latin word “spagere” (to scatter, sprinkle, moisten) or may be an acronym of the phrase “sanitas per aquas” (health through water). Another theory comes from the Belgian town, Spa, who gained its name from its fountain ('espa') were, In the 14th century, a thermal spring was discovered 


Ancient Greece:

In ancient Greece, taking to the waters was considered a popular treatment for a wide range of diseases. Although, the Greeks preferred to bathe in fresh water, from natural resources, they also bathed in the sea. Private baths were confined, initially, to the wealthy but soon public baths opened  and considered sacred places.


The Greek physician, Hippocrates, proposed the hypothesis that the cause of all diseases lay in an imbalance of the bodily fluids. To regain the balance a change of habits and environment was advised, which included bathing, perspiration, walking, and massages. It was common place that baths were combined with sports and education, the precursors of the gymnasium.


Roman Baths:

Influenced by the Greeks, the Romans built three different types of baths: baths at home (balnea), private baths (balnea privata), and public baths (balnea publica).During their heyday, the inhabitants of Rome used 1400 litres of water per person per day. With the help of aqueducts, which would bring water from natural sources into cities, public baths developed into large, imposing buildings (thermae) with the capacity to hold thousands of people.


Unlike the Greeks, who took the waters after intensive physical exercises, the Romans would originally use the waters to help heal afflicted parts of the body, and to immersion of the whole body in the water (especially for rheumatic and urogenital diseases). 


Throughout the years the Roman bathing culture gradually changed towards a place for relaxation and pleasure, rather than for medical treatment, although this was still provided. 

Fall and Rise:

As the Roman Empire fell and Christianity took a firm grip in Britain, the bathing culture was officially prohibited. It wasn't until the early 19th century that interest in the bathing culture grew once again. 


Improvements in medical practices, and a greater understanding of how natural resources can benefit the human body, encouraged more people to try hydrotherapy. As natural springs became more popular, so to did the development of hotels and resorts, directing more attention towards leisure. Steam baths, saunas, whirlpools, and solariums; the main objective being to relax and strengthen the body and mind.

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