European Thermal Heritage Day in 2021 will examine the subject of “Thermal Urbanism” in the context of the “Therapeutic Landscape”. This is the idea that thermal towns, with their surrounding landscape were created to enhance physical and mental health of their visitors, involving inhabitants and guests in a sustainable process that we still enjoy today, hundreds of years later. These spaces are particularly valuable as people look for healthy destinations and healing spaces after the pandemic. Wiesbaden in Germany is a great example of the concept of “thermal urbanism”, and is the host town for European Thermal Heritage Day 2021.
This is the first of a series of three annual events, looking at the development of the Therapeutic Landscape - in 2022 the subject will be “Parks and Gardens”, and the following year, “Thermal Towns”.
Each spa town relies on its natural setting and the surrounding landscape which has been used and managed as a part of the ‘spa offer’ or attractiveness of the place since the 16th century, in other words the ‘therapeutic’ or spa landscape which is unique to spa towns. This has led to a specific historic urban landscape of transition which moves from the formal gardens in the centre of the spa town, formed around the principal public buildings to the wider ‘English’ style parkland of trees, shrubs and lawns, to the meadows and walks beyond leading into the hills and ‘wild’ landscape setting of the spa town.
The ‘natural’ landscape surrounding the spa towns is often less “natural” than it might appear, as it is a deliberately managed and planted forest to create the concept of ‘wilderness’ with prospects, viewpoints and ‘hidden surprises’ and features. This landscape was purposefully developed with health in mind, the development of which became a collaboration between the spa town authorities, private landowners, and the doctors practising in the town who prescribed walking and riding as part of the ‘cure’.
Case Study: Saratoga Springs – an example of the European spa town model outside Europe
Saratoga Springs, which is also part of the focus of European Thermal Heritage Day, is similar in plan and form to a typical European thermal town, and elements of its design have similar dimensions to the plan of the layout of the thermal ensemble in Wiesbaden. In addition, 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the death of Simon Baruch, the foremost advocate of the urban public bathhouse to benefit public health in the United States. While Franklin D. Roosevelt was Governor of New York (1929-1932), he hired an architect to study the spas in Europe and to design the ‘grandest spa in the world’ at Saratoga Springs (New York). The result was the creation of the first hydrotherapy centre in New York, which replicates the model of the European historic thermal towns. The International Society of Medical Hydrology and Climatology (ISMH) also celebrates its 100th Anniversary in 2021.