The Great Spa Towns of Europe are eleven famous spas - designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2021 - that represent the heyday of the European spa phenomenon, rooted in antiquity and with a global influence. These great spa towns sum up the most modern, dynamic and international spas that developed around natural mineral water springs. They created an urban typology with specific form, function and remarkable architecture that has no previous parallel, all embedded in a unique therapeutic landscape dedicated to "cure", relaxation and enjoyment - these Great Spas were pioneers of the emerging modern tourism.
The Great Spa Towns of Europe
Outstanding testimonies of European spa tradition
Architectural ensembles, parks, gardens and landscapes of the highest standard
The Great Spa Towns of Europe
What are the Great Spa Towns of Europe?
The Great Spa Towns of Europe are eleven famous spas that represent the heyday of the European spa phenomenon, rooted in antiquity and with a global influence - reaching its highest expression between 1700 and 1930.
These great spa towns sum up the most modern, dynamic and international spas that developed around natural mineral water springs. They created an urban typology with specific form, function and remarkable architecture that has no previous parallel, all embedded in a unique therapeutic landscape dedicated to "cure", relaxation and enjoyment - these Great Spas were pioneers of the emerging modern tourism.
What are the 11 Great Spa Towns of Europe?
Baden near Vienna, Austria
Františkovy Lázně, Czech Republic
Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
Mariánské Lázně, Czech Republic
Bad Ems, Germany
Bad Kissingen, Germany
Montecatini Terme, Italy
City of Bath, United Kingdom
What makes a Great Spa Town?
All "Great Spa Towns" have common characteristics, although their structure and spatial layout vary according to local geographical conditions and constraints.The common elements of the cities that all contribute to them being "Great Spa Town" are:
- Fountains and springs, as well as ensembles of spa buildings to "hold water" such as baths, drinking halls and prototypes such as the Kurhaus and Kursaal.
- Places of gentle exercise - walking and strolling (including meeting others) in paved and covered colonnades and galleries, landscaped parks and gardens and extensive networks of paths in the surrounding forests and countryside, golf, tennis and horse racing.
- Social activities - in meeting rooms and conversation halls, facilities for social gatherings and for 'diversions' such as gambling emerged. Casinos, theatres, opera houses, concert halls and dance halls are found in most of the "Great Spas".
- A range of accommodation was important to accommodate large numbers of guests and the number and size of hotels, as well as numerous villas, are a characteristic feature of the "Great Spas of Europe".
- The townscape includes infrastructures specifically linked to the spas, such as hospitals based on mineral springs, funiculars leading to lookout towers or restaurants in the countryside, river transport and railways, facilities for bottling and exporting the water and its by-products, and even the pipelines that transport the important water.
- Views: buildings and spaces visually connect with their picturesque surroundings of idealised nature.
- And finally, the "therapeutic landscape" - a green environment regularly used for exercise as a contribution to the therapy of the cure as well as for relaxation and enjoyment.
Why were these 11 spas selected in particular?
These eleven most representative spa towns embody the most famous and fashionable spa towns of the 18th and 19th centuries. This is due not only to architectural and historical reasons, but also to the fact that these towns were at the forefront of communication and cultural activities in a society where the bourgeoisie was emerging and the concepts of internationalism and democracy were prevalent. They were "the" places to be seen and became known as the cafés, salons and summer capitals of Europe.
What makes these cities so special?
There are still over 400 functioning spas across Europe, and the selected ones are the crème de la crème of the best in Europe. The eleven Great Spas have architectural ensembles, parks, gardens and landscapes that are maintained to the highest standards. They also maintain a wide range of outstanding cultural activities, welcome an international clientele and offer an ongoing, vibrant tradition of leisure, health and well-being.
How were these 11 cities selected?
Over ten years of research, expert consultations, conferences and debates led to the final selection of the 11 spas. In the 19th century, there were over 600 European spas and these were considered and selected through a comparative analysis that measured each spa against the UNESCO criteria. The number was slowly reduced through a complex interdisciplinary analysis from 87 to 42 to 16 and finally to the 11 GreatSpas we see today. World Heritage requires the smallest number to demonstrate Outstanding Universal Value.
How can 11 cities in 7 countries really be ONE World Heritage Site?
Each World Heritage site fulfils one or more of UNESCO's stated criteria. To prove this, each site must submit a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value arguing and justifying how it meets the criteria. The Great Spas embody the most internationally famous spas of the 18th and 19th centuries that transformed the health and leisure business and created Europe's first tourist resorts. No one spa can represent all the attributes of a Great Spa on its own, but all of them together meet all the criteria, which is why a serial approach is the most appropriate methodology.