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Editors: Claval, Paul
Pagnini, Maria Paola
Scaini, Maurizio
Issue Date: 19-Jul-2006
Journal: Proceedings of the Conference THE CULTURAL TURN IN GEOGRAPHY, 18-20th of September 2003 - Gorizia Campus
Part VI: Tourism, Sustainable Development and Culture Turn
Passage from classic myths of the creation to rationality doesn’t exclude the persistence of
consecrated aspects coexisting with the observation medicine.
At least until XIX century, medicine was not always able to assure a safe recovery and
therefore people looked for miraculous beliefs linked to the environment as the right link
between patients and preternatural world where medicine had failed.
Among environmental factors, the most important is undoubtedly water, the historical
miraculous source. Search of health has always been linked to presence of water, as thermal
baths, which became since the XIX century spas for treatments and regulation of functions of
human organism.
To tell the truth, however, in spite of the historical importance of water as an efficacious
health remedy (see Hippocrates work), the discussion about environment and health started
only from the middle of last century thanks to the remarkable contribution of some
International or Research institutions (OMS, Schools of Public Health of London, Boston and
Baltimore). They nourished a strong collation between ancient and modern consideration of
relations between natural elements and diseases, superstitions and scientific progress, official
political institutions and individual researchers (Angeletti, 1995).
In such a discussion water has always represented the hauling and main element.
From a historical point of view, water has played a fundamental role both for human and
productive settling down ( mouths, nomadism) (Cancellieri, 1995) and for popular
religiousness. The first version was linked to everyday survival much more than alimentary
needs coming from hunting, stock-raising and agriculture. Popular religiousness has instead
covered all water places with guardian Divinities and ritual immersion has always represented
a twofold function: sacral and social, a sort of rebirth through the purification of the body.
From a technical and functional point of view, there is no doubt that water actually
represents the most effective and symptomatic informer of environmental emergency and
particularly of the physiological balance requested between activity of people and activity of
the surrounding nature. In fact the most risky pathological events of mankind (ruinous floods,
climatic changes, pollution of water-bearing strata, harvest destruction, drought, etc.) depend
on presence or lack of water, on protection or carelessness (Vegetti, 1995).
The curative use of thermal water is mentioned for the first time by Philostratus (Hersicus, 3,
35) in relation with injured Achaean warriors who, coming back from Troy, dipped as therapy
in the thermal sources in Smirne, which were later called “Agamemnon’s BathsÓ.
Therefore the connection between thermal and curative water sources and volcanic
phenomena has always been clear. It means that quality of water and its temperature are
exclusively connected to the geological structure of the soil where it flows, and that ancient
people attributed a mythical link between health and volcanism.
Therefore in the ancient Greece, the most important spas are those of Asclepiae (in Kos
and in G˜rtina in Arcady) and those of Heracles (in Termopili and in Adepso in Eubea) which
were situated near medicinal water sources where patients were subjected to a purification rite
even with therapeutical effects. In Gadara in Judea (present Ain Gader) there are important
spas to treat leprosy, second only to Baia and still famous in the first centuries a.D.
Even the Etruscans and the ancient Italic peoples gave a great importance to the
therapeutical use of water.
To mention are “Thermae Ceretanae” (present Bagno del Sasso in Cerveteri), and the
famous “Fontes Clusini” (Chianciano), “Acque Populoniae” (Bagni di Caldana) and “Thermae
tauri (Bagni di Ferrata near Civitavecchia). Some of them have been working until the Roman
Empire and some still work today.
Hydrotherapy knew its maximum level with Romans who were able to give it a collective
and public aspect. The coming of the Principality brought big water works, as aqueducts,
which let thermalism develop not only near the water sources but also in the city.
This represented a Copernican revolution for thermalism which assumed a twofold
function: therapeutical with medical and control centres and social with special areas for men
and for women where they could relax and have contacts with other people. In this way the
original Greek spas began to change and to loose the mystic and religious pregnancy typical of
Greek spas of Asclepio and Eracle which were placed near water sources.
The biggest Roman spas were directly financed by emperors: Spas of Nero, Titus,
Tiberius, Trajan, Caracalla, Domitian such as the many imperial villas with complete thermal
system as Heliocaminus in the Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, or the thermal system of the Villa in
Piazza Armerina in Sicily (beginning IV century a.C.). Both spas and villas were all equipped
with an efficient and rational system for water thermoregulation - from very hot to very cold.
Among the many authors who have always exalted the therapeutical use of thermal water,
we would like to mention Asclepiad from Prusa (I century a.C.), Cicero’s friend, Virgil
(Aeneid IX), Seneca, Vituvius (v. VIII of De Architectura), Antonio Musa who healed
Augustus with cold baths, Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia), Galen and, above all, Celso
who explicitly exalted the spas of Baia and water as healing mean for the body (Melillo,
In this way, the development of thermalism started by Romans with waterworks in the
cities, went on with the exaltation of spas in Baia and in Campi Flegrei for a wide range of
pathologies both for hydrotherapy and for crenotherapy thanks to the volcanic origin of water
and its diversified physical-chemical and thermic composition. Thanks to its genetic features,
thermalism succeeded in keeping its value also after the end of the Empire when the crisis of
the city, destruction of part of aqueducts and the downfall of big thermal systems irreversibly
quickened the crisis of hydrotherapy in the artificial spas of the big towns but not in the
natural ones (as Campi Flegrei) which continued to be attraction poles for many pilgrimspatients
during Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Thermal sources were also exploited in many other European countries although people
were still linked to local healthy Gods. To mention are: Badenweiler spas in the Black Forest
(80 a.C.), famous Aquae spas (today’s Baden Baden) which became later “Aquae Aureliae”.
In France spas were appreciated by people who had already tested abroad the effectiveness
of water treatment.
In Britain it is to mention the spa in Bath which is still operative.
Type: Proceedings
ISBN: 88-8303-180-6
Rights: © Copyright 2003 Edizioni Università di Trieste - EUT
Appears in Collections:The cultural turn in geography

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