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2019.11.22 - Where are Hungarians located on the map of the world’s bathing culture?

Where are Hungarians located on the map of the world’s bathing culture?

Us Hungarians deserve to be proud of our bathing culture since thermal baths are being built from time to time, but what impact does this have on the world? Have we given any new impulse to the world in this field?


Us Hungarians sometimes tend to think that all good things come only from abroad, especially from the West, other times our pocket knife opens if they want to “steal” one of our inventions. This is not different in connection with bath culture either. 
In fact, two of the great waves of the prosperity of our bath culture connect to foreign invaders: first, as a province of the Roman Empire, Pannonia became the home of Roman baths, and then a lot of significant spa buildings were built during the Turkish occupation. Despite this the other two big uplifts were self-initiated: the first was during the Millennium and the other is currently happening today. 
It is very important to mention that when it comes to bathing culture, it is not only about occasional bathing in public buildings, it is as important as how average people relate to water and bathing in their everyday lives. We cannot complain about this: we indeed look upon ourselves as an equestrian nation, but we could easily call ourselves an aqueous nation! The ancient Hungarians were not looking for dry grasslands when they were looking for a place to live at all, they liked the closeness of rivers. The sweltering flood plains of the lowlands provided protection against invaders, fish, and fruit to the people, and the rich soil meant rich leas for the animals. Water was such an important element to them that the most useful element of their combat tactics was not the well known flight-faking sweepbacks on their horses, but they achieved a lot of their military success by being able to cross the river on horseback, while the enemy considered the river as an impenetrable wall. 

The nomadic lifestyle did not prevent our ancestors from frequent baths. They sprinkled water on heated stones inside their tents thus making steam baths, they hit their bodies with birch branches, moreover, the ancestor of the shower was also widespread: they hanged leather water bags and they trickled water on themselves, they called it “csurgó”. The more prominent ones carried portable bathtubs made of leather in which they could have long baths. Nomadic bathing culture also appeared in the civilized empire of eastern Rome: Byzantine Emperor Constantine mentions in his ceremonial book that the leader of every military camp is obliged to take the Scythian bath to every campaign. Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan wrote down the bathing habits of our Bulgarian relatives living in Basque Country, where women and men bathed in the pool. 

The healing effects of thermal water were not unknown to us either. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the centers of medieval Hungary can be linked to places where heat sources can be found. Although there’s not a lot of data available on the balneological landscape of that time, we know that St. Margaret healed leprous people with thermal water reaching the surface at the bottom of Gellért Hill, and the johannite knights also built their hospitals near the heat sources. The Age of Enlightenment brought a superstitious fear of water to Europe and the ridiculous ideas we blame on the dark Middle Ages are more likely to be connected to this period. While bathing went out of fashion in the western part of Europe, it was still a part of our daily routine. Calm, clean village life was incompatible with modesty, but the urban people came up with several superstitious ideas from time to time which sometimes stayed alive for centuries if it was packed into some religious idea. Giving something to the world does not only mean creating a bunch of innovations and inventions, but it can also mean taking over what is valuable and preserving it even if the inventing people may have forgotten about it. It is also part of creating values if we are alert to the newest innovations in the world and we apply them among the first ones with courage. The mechanics, architects and mining engineers of Hungary during the Millennium did exactly that: they gave space to inventions that were considered high-tech during that time while building the baths.