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2017.05.23 - A true thermal water superpower: the history of Hungary’s medicinal waters

A true thermal water superpower: the history of Hungary’s medicinal waters

Hungary is a thermal, medicinal and mineral water superpower! There are few places in the world where medicinal water springing from the ground is present in such abundance. Japan, Iceland, California, Peru, Bali, Italy and Turkey. These are the only countries – all of them are territories of volcanic origin – that can compete with Hungary in terms of medicinal and thermal water.

Volcanic origin entails the presence of hot springs everywhere, but somehow the inhabitants of the countries mentioned above seem to have been more enthusiastic and determined to utilise the hot water springing to the surface from the ground, developing a great bathing culture. By no means have we intended to complain, but we must admit that in Hungary it was always foreigners settling in the country that realised the potential that lies in natural resources.


From the ancient Romans to the Austrians

It was the ancient Romans who built the first baths in Hungary, in Aquincum and in the region north of Lake Balaton. Under the reign of Emperor Sigismund, the King of Hungary, there were baths operating in Buda. Later chronicler Galeotto Marzio wrote that guests who came to the court of King Mathias from distant countries were invited to steam baths. In 1536 Archbishop of Esztergom Miklós Oláh reported that peasants and winegrowers were regularly taking baths in the hot water accumulated in the holes of Felhévíz in Buda. This habit lived on for centuries in the area where Lukács Bath is located, up until the 19th century.    

When the Ottoman Empire conquered Hungary, the Turkish brought their sophisticated bathing culture with them and the architectural memory of this lives on in the baths of Budapest: it is enough to mention the domed halls of the Rudas, Király and Rác baths. After the Ottoman rule there was a long hiatus, but following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 Hungary’s bathing culture revitalised, and we can see the results of this in the form of the medical spas on Margaret Island and in the City Park. The real symbol of this period used to be Herkulesfürdő by the Lower Danube, but unfortunately it is in very bad condition today.     


Medical and thermal spas are trendy again

For some reason during the years of socialism thermal water got associated with old people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Perhaps this also had to do with the state our baths were in back then, but luckily the situation changed a lot in the last 20 years. In a Hungary where the middle class is rising again, thermal spas keep opening, from the Zala region to the Great Hungarian Plain, and not only old people visit them to heal as on a cloudy day the thermal spas around Lake Balaton are full of families with children, thanks to the many waterslides and other amusements, and to the cleanliness of these places. For the tourists that come to see Budapest, it has become an almost obligatory part of the programme to visit one of the many traditional baths. Those who go on hiking tours in the mountains of the Bükk or the Mátra can relax their tired muscles in the pools of a spa. The quiet wellness section of a thermal spa is also perfect for a romantic rendezvous. Cold winter days are a real stress for our body, not to mention that five days of hard work can drain the soul, so the weekend is just the right time to sit in the sparkling water pool with a couple friends, discussing all the important things in life.    

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