A Lighthearted Look at the History of Spa

The History of Spa

Where did it come from?

The modern spa is descended from the ancient practice of bathing in hot springs and mineral waters. This dates at least to the Babylonians and Greeks, but knowing people, probably much sooner!

Some say the origin of the word "spa" comes from the Belgian town of Spa, known since Roman times for its baths. They speculate that the town was so prominent that the very word spa became synonymous in the English language with a place to be restored and pampered.

Others speculate it may be an acronym for the Latin phrase "salus per aquae" - health through water.

Meet the Romans!

Roman Baths were grand and spacious, structured around imposing pillars, floored by imported marble, and decorated with mosaic walls huge temples to water.

The Romans renowned for their empires didn't stop at baths. There were the returning soldiers, back from battle that needed hard earned leisure and refreshment, along with their wives! With the European culture of work largely being finished by early afternoon, people needed somewhere to cool down, refresh and relax and generally enjoy themselves.

Some baths accommodated up to 3000 bathers at one time. Believe it or not these baths also featured other entertainment, such as gardens, games and in some instances theatres. If you ventured outside, you would find a gymnasium where men could lift weights, throw the discus and indulge in other forms of exercise¦.basically a resort spa!

The curative power of water

The spa concept was formalized in 17th century Europe out of an understanding of the curative powers of water.

This restorative element is evident in the origins of Baden-Baden, a famous thermal spa with a long history, which originated as a clinical, get-well centre for curing all manner of diseases from arthritis to infertility. Rigorous routines, in often less than indulgent locations, involved drinking or bathing in the spring-fed spa waters or walking barefoot in the winter dew at dawn.

In the 19th century, Europe's great spas were destinations for the wealthy, who went there to "take the waters". They would enjoy the salty air in the spa and seaside towns, to help relieve physical, emotional and sometimes social difficulties.

The Brits are so funny!

The Brits have always enjoyed a bit of discomfort. It says a lot about our national psyche that we take so much pride in knowing how to wait for and do without things damn- we can form an orderly queue, and we're great at rationing...we were finishing off things we didn't like eating well into the 1970's! The good old days when poor was poor, lard was lard, and that's what you put on your face as face cream¦

Today, the spa philosophy has moved on from the pain-is-gain approach and away from the curative emphasis towards a preventative one which includes the benefits of water therapies and heat experiences.

Spa-ing today should be fun: it's good for the soul!

Spa takes you away from your normal life and world, whether for 30 minutes or a whole week. It nearly always makes you feel better; it makes you look better, or should! There is literally a whole world of spa that encompasses different cultures and practices. Nowadays, you're never too far away from a good spa; you just have to decide what type of spa pleasure you want and where you can get it!


View our latest spa job vacancies

Back to listing