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Spas and Spa Visiting

Spas and Spa Visiting

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Spas and Spa Visiting

4/5 (1 valutazione)
92 pagine
45 minuti
Feb 10, 2014


The British spa came into its own in the Georgian period, with thousands flocking to take the waters at Bath, Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells as well as numerous other towns. As these towns grew, their reputation as fashionable destinations became as or more important than the benefits of bathing, which in any case often involved immersion in water tainted by dirt and diseases from fellow bathers. Ian D. Rotherham here traces the story of the British spa back to Roman and medieval times, through their heyday in Georgian and Victorian Britain and right up to their decline in the twentieth century and recent revival. With a wealth of colourful illustrations, this book is a perfect introduction to changing attitudes to public bathing and health, and describes the rise of some of Britain's most famous towns.
Feb 10, 2014

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Spas and Spa Visiting - Ian Rotherham



Bathing is not absolutely forbidden to one who needs it. If you are ill, you need it; so it is not a sin. If a man is healthy, it cossets and relaxes the body and conduces to lust. (Barsanuphius, hermit from Palestine)

[Baths are] for the needs of the body … not for the titillation of the mind and sensuous pleasure. (Pope Gregory the Great, AD 540–604)

THE EMERGENCE OF Georgian spas and spa towns has its origins in earlier uses of healing waters, baths and bathing, bathhouses and holy wells. From this mixed background there was a great expansion of spas and spa towns across Georgian Britain. To understand the remarkable rise of Georgian baths and spas, and the subsequent Victorian hydropathic movement, we must look back at social and religious attitudes to bathing, water and health in earlier times. The baths and spas became popular in the context, too, of the Georgian revolution in sumptuous living, of bagnios and bawdy-houses. Indeed, the boundaries between health resorts and places of assignation were often blurred. However, before the seventeenth century, licentious behaviour was much frowned upon and largely suppressed, and the bathhouses had suffered accordingly.

A medieval bathing scene used to depict the Biblical story of Bathsheba and King David.

Ptolemy, writing in Roman Egypt in the second century AD, described the Roman buildings at Bath as one of the wonders of the world – a remarkable transformation from what, only shortly before this time, had been a boggy pool in a great marsh. The Romans established the town of Bath in AD 43, a spa bearing the Latin name Aquae Sulis (‘the Waters of Sulis’). Archaeology has shown that the main spring of the Roman baths had been a religious shrine used by Celtic Iron Age Britons, and dedicated to their goddess Sulis. The Romans identified her with their own deity Minerva, and messages to her, scratched on to metal and known as curse tablets, have been found. These Latin messages curse those who had done wrong to the writer. One, written backwards so that only a god or goddess could read it, cursed the man who had gone off with the writer’s girlfriend or wife: ‘Cursed be he who carried off Vilbia’.

When the Romans left Britain, Bath fell into disrepair; the ruins were reclaimed by nature, and buried beneath mud, silt and peat. However, by around AD 675–6, the town, now known as Ackmancaestor (‘Sick Man’s Town’), had a monastery and a small bathing facility. The ninth-century historian Nennius described it as:

[a] Hot Lake … surrounded by a wall, made of brick and stone, and men may go there to bathe at any time, and every man can have the kind of bath he likes. If he wants, it will be a cold bath; and if he wants a hot bath, it will be hot.

For long periods, Christianity viewed baths, bathing, and especially bathhouses, very negatively. These were places of pleasure and sensuous delight, where good Christians might be tempted to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. Bearing this in mind, the early Christian Church discouraged bathing. It was considered a pagan pastime or ritual, decadent and corrupting. The fourth-century ascetic Saint Jerome stated: ‘He who has bathed in Christ has no need of a second bath.’ Baths and bathing were caught in a religious debate between Christian and pagan, and between western and eastern Christianity. Up to the Middle Ages, baths were strongly associated with serious threats to health, and to moral and sexual degradation allied to pagan and Islamic rituals. Writers were puzzled by Turkish culture, in which people bathed several times a week and washed even their genitals – something considered outrageous to Christians.

The Roman Baths and Abbey in Bath in the 1970s. The city’s long history and growth can be traced in the various phases of architectural development seen here.

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