The Great Spa Towns of Europe, Transboundary

Eleven towns, seven countries, one remarkable site

Baden-Baden, Trinkhalle (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

The Great Spa Towns of Europe are a ‘Transnational Serial’ World Heritage site, formed of 11 famous historic spa towns and cities in seven countries which were inscribed on the World Heritage List at the Extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee meeting in China on 24th July 2021.

Spa, The Casino complex (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

The Great Spa Towns of Europe represent a unique cultural achievement, as well as a particular urban type and form. Each of the ‘Great Spas’ has several features in common, although their structure and spatial layout vary. These common elements all contribute to the Outstanding Universal Value of the site.

Mariánské Lázně, Ferdinand's spring pavillon (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

The Great Spa Towns of Europe prove exceptional testimony to the European spa tradition, a complex urban, social and cultural phenomenon that has its roots in antiquity, but which gained its highest expression from around 1700 to the 1930s.

Františkovy Lázně, Spring Hall exterior (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

These towns epitomise the most famous and fashionable spa resorts of the 18th and 19th centuries. They were at the forefront of communication and cultural activity in a society where the concepts of internationalism and democracy were prevalent. These were ‘the’ places to be seen and became known as the Cafés, Salons and Summer Capitals of Europe.

City of Bath, the Roman Baths (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

The ‘Great Spas’ are all built around mineral water springs and sources, some of which come to the surface at high temperatures, laden with a variety of chemical elements.   Many of these healing sources have been known since Roman times, and even before.

Montecatini Terme, Tettuccio Terme (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Ensembles of spa buildings are at the heart of each of the towns, and these enabled people to ‘take the waters’.  Spa buildings might include  bath houses and, later, more extensive bathing complexes, pump rooms, drinking halls, colonnades and more specialised medical facilities.

Bad Kissigen (2021)UNESCO World Heritage

Spa medicine, especially the ‘drinking cure’, required gentle exercise.  Walking and promenading (also meeting and being seen by others) took place in paved and covered colonnades and galleries, and in landscaped parks and gardens, as well as in extensive networks of footpaths and trails in the surrounding woods and landscape.

Vichy, the Opera House (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Social activity was extremely important in the Great Spa Towns of Europe, and facilities developed for mixing and socialising in assembly rooms and conversation rooms, also known as Kurhauses or Kursaals, which were used for ‘diversions’ such as gaming, reading and dancing. Casinos, theatres, opera houses and concert and dance halls can be found in most of the ‘Great Spas’.

Baden bei Wien, Eugenvilla (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

A range of accommodation was important to house large numbers of guests, and the number and size of hotels as well as numerous villas is a distinctive attribute of the ‘Great Spa Towns of Europe’.

Karlovy Vary, Mill Colonnade (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

The urban landscape includes infrastructure that is especially linked to spas, such as hospitals based on mineral springs, funiculars that lead to look-out towers or restaurants in the landscape, river transport and railways, facilities to bottle and export the water and its by-products and even the pipework transporting the all-important water.

Bad Ems (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Each of the Great Spa Towns of Europe is surrounded by extensive natural landscapes – hills, forests, rivers and moorland all accessible from the towns. This ‘therapeutic landscape’ – was - and still is - used regularly for exercise as a contribution to the therapy of the cure, and for relaxation and enjoyment. 

Baden bei Wien, Austria, Spa of Emperors (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Baden bei Wien, Austria

Spa of Emperors
Baden bei Wien is just 30km from Vienna, the historic seat of the Habsburgs. Baden was one of their favourite summer resorts; a ‘Spa of Emperors’ and a magnet for high-level politics. The town uniquely combines the classicist architecture of the beginning of the nineteenth century with the architecture and infrastructures of the turn of the twentieth century when Baden became a world class spa resort.

Spa, Belgium, Café of Europe (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Spa, Belgium

Café of Europe
Spa played an important role, as early as the seventeenth century, in the recognition of the medical properties of mineral water. Its carbonated waters were ideally suited to drinking and are widely distributed across Europe, leading to the introduction of the name ‘spa’ in the English vocabulary. 

Františkovy Lázně, Czech Republic, A European Model Spa (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Františkovy Lázně, Czech Republic

A European Model Spa
Františkovy Lázně is a planned ideal nineteenth century ‘new (spa) town’. Its harmonious look is founded on Baroque principles of symmetry and has extensive parks, in which twenty-four springs and their pavilions are linked by long and level promenades. Among many famous visitors was J.W. Goethe, who visited over 30 times.

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, Europe's Open-Air Salon (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

Europe's Open-Air Salon
Karlovy Vary is distinguished by a geyser-like spring phenomenon and unique composition of thermal water, innovative methods in balneology, and a prolific and outstanding architectural spa ensemble. Nowhere today is the ‘drinking cure’ more evident than in the numerous beautiful colonnades where thousands of daily visitors may be seen drinking from traditionally-shaped porcelain spa cups.

Mariánské Lázně, Czech Republic, Grand Harmony with Nature (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Mariánské Lázně, Czech Republic

Grand Harmony with Nature
In Mariánské Lázně, prolific mineral springs provide a focus for the Central Park and a diverse neoclassical ensemble of outstanding spa buildings. From the 1870s it gained an international reputation as a meeting place of royal families and the aristocracy, a venue for important global political negotiations, for scientific gatherings, and as a place of inspiration for high-art. 

Vichy, France, Queen of the Spa Towns (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Vichy, France

Queen of the Spa Towns
Vichy greatly contributed to the creation of nineteenth century European spa culture, and combines Parisian urban principles with a spa promenade inside the city. Napoleon III encouraged the building of a new model spa town laid out with parks and boulevards, grand bath complexes, pump rooms connected by covered promenades, a casino and theatre, hotels and numerous villas.

Bad Ems, Germany, The Picturesque Imperial Spa (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Bad Ems, Germany

The Picturesque Imperial Spa
Bad Ems, is a compact ‘Great Spa’, showing in both form and function, the depth of the European bathing tradition over time. Set along a tributary of the Rhine, it became one of the most important spa towns in Germany; a venue for major political events and decisions, pioneering gaming and a vibrant musical heritage.

Baden-Baden, Germany, Summer Capital of Europe (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Baden-Baden, Germany

Summer Capital of Europe
Baden-Baden was patronised by the ruling and cultural elite of the nineteenth century, and became one of Europe’s largest and most fashionable spas. In the Kurhaus and lavish Casino, Baden-Baden acquired a worldwide reputation as a gaming spa. It was also a place of inspiration for major artists and works of universal significance.

Bad Kissingen, Germany, Between Classicism and Modernity (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Bad Kissingen, Germany

Between Classicism and Modernity
Bad Kissingen was almost entirely rebuilt in the early twentieth century with exceptional architecture using innovative forms and materials. Development took place outside the medieval walled town, guided by the cluster of springs, the Saale River, and the spa garden, all making a seamless transition into parks and wooded hills. 

Montecatini Terme, Italy, Garden Spa of Europe (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

Montecatini Terme, Italy

Garden Spa of Europe
Montecatini Terme had an early distinguished role in the recognition of the medical properties of mineral water, and attracted important intellectuals and artists. Monumental spa architecture, centred on four main springs, is dotted jewel-like within an oasis of gardens, formal parkland and promenades, with views up to ancient Montecatini Alto from the central boulevard. 

City of Bath, United Kingdom, Georgian Spa City (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

City of Bath, United Kingdom

Georgian Spa City
The City of Bath is one of the earliest and most influential ‘Great Spas’. From a medieval walled city clustered around hot springs, the grand ‘Georgian Spa’ was created during the eighteenth century when frequently visited by Royalty and high aristocracy. Bath doctors pioneered diagnostic medicine, and the surrounding landscape was managed as part of ‘the cure’.

Main Colonnade in Mariánské Lázně (2021) by The Great Spa Towns of EuropeUNESCO World Heritage

The Great Spa Towns of Europe represent a unique cultural achievement which reached its height in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as a particular urban type and form which deserves global recognition as a phenomenon which helped to shape the Europe we recognise today.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by The Great Spa Towns of Europe: www.greatspatownsofeurope.eu


Baden bei Wien (Austria): www.baden.at
Spa (Belgium): www.villedespa.be
Františkovy Lázně (Czech Republic): www.frantiskovy-lazne.info/en
Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic): www.karlovyvary.cz/en
Mariánské Lázně (Czech Republic): www.marianskelazne.cz/en
Vichy (France): www.vichy-patrimoine-mondial.com
Bad Ems (Germany): www.vgben.de
Baden-Baden (Germany): www.baden-baden.de
Bad Kissingen (Germany): www.badkissingen.de
Montecatini Terme (Italy): www.comune.montecatini-terme.pt.it
City of Bath (United Kingdom): www.bathworldheritage.org.uk

More on The Great Spa Towns of Europe and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/1613

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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