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Anthology of the Hot Tub - A Brief History of the Spa

Anthology of the Hot Tub, a Brief History of the SPA

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The medicinal uses of heated water baths have an impressive lineage. This paper attempts to provide a brief overview of the history of the spa.

By Any Other Name...?

hot tubs

Spa comes from the Walloon[1] word "espa" meaning spring fountain. This, in turn, came from the name of the Belgian town Spa, a famed site of healing hot springs, Spa has been frequented as a watering-place since as early as the 14th century. Though other sources of healing hot mineral springs have become famous throughout the world, it is the town of Spa which has become eponymous with any place having a natural water source that is believed to possess special health-giving properties, as a spa. The word spa is still used, although in some regions of Europe the term "thermal waters" is preferred. The concept of submerging in heated water for therapeutic purposes has many names, e.g., balneotherapy, spa therapy, hydrotherapy, but for this articles purposes, spa shall do just fine.[2]

Ancient Egypt

egyptian spas

It is thought that the Egyptians used baths for therapeutic purposes as early as 2000 B.C.  (not to be confused with "Before Chlorine") . Evidence of actual spa construction also exists from Phraortes, King of Media, in 600 B.C. The earliest forms of hot tubs were simply a caldera in which sizzling stones had been placed to heat the water.

 

 

 

 

hot tubs ancient greece

Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks believed in the therapeutic benefits of hot bath and mineral waters.  They even indulged in the practice in bathing in the ocean for medicinal uses.  Although largely reserved for the wealthy class, the concept soon came out to the public in the form of public baths whereupon they rapidly became worship centers for resident deities.

In Homeric times, bathing was primarily used for cleansing and hygienic purposes. By the time of Hippocrates (460-370 BC), bathing was considered more than a simple hygienic measure; it was healthy and beneficial for most diseases.3 Hippocrates proposed the hypothesis that the cause of all diseases lay in an imbalance of the bodily fluids. To regain the balance a change of habits and environment was advised, which included bathing, perspiration, walking, and massages.[3] The baths were often combined with gymnastics and education, the precursors of the gymnasium.

Today there are vestiges that still remain of Greek hydrotherapy, The Ancient Spa of Therma in Ikaria: The island of Ikaria has an abundance of the highly therapeutic radio- energized springs. They are regarded as the best in the world. Historically Therma in Ikaria has been a very popular place particularly for hydrotherapy ever since the 4th century BC.

There are basically 3 main therapeutic springs in Therma. The hot springs have curative properties and can heal a variety of illness like rheumatism, arthrology, arthritis, neuralgia as well as infertility.

Therma derives its name from the pre-historic town of Thermae. In the past, the residents of Thermae were popularly referred to as "Asclipians" after the name of "Asclipios" who happened to be the god of medicine. There is the"Xalasmena Therma" which is located in close proximity to the Therma town where even today one can see the vestiges of the ancient spa. [4]

In the past, it used to be a seaside town innovatively built on a small cape and was one of the most popular spas. The remains of wrecked marble bathtubs along with a pre-historic aqueduct that have been unearthed from this area bear ample testimony of the place's popularity in the ancient times.

Ancient Everywhere

Distinct spa traditions grew out of different cultures worldwide. In 737 A.D., Japan's first "onsen" (hot spring) opened near Izumo, and centuries later the first "ryoken" (inns) were built, offering fine food, accommodations, Zen gardens, outdoor baths and indoor soaking tubs called cypress ofuro. Saunas began appearing along the Baltic in Finland as early as 1000 A.D., inaugurating a rich Finnish spa-going tradition - including a prescription of sauna-induced sweating, icy lake plunges, and plenty of beer or vodka - that continues to this day in a nation that offers one sauna per every two Finns. And of course the Ottomans were famous for their domed and beautifully mosaic hammam, the crowning example being the Baths of Roxelana (built in 1556), with its massive towering steam rooms, private washing quarters, and sprawling massage platforms. Typical of hammam throughout the Empire, Roxelana became an important social center, particularly for Muslim women.

When In Rome...

Roman spa bathsWell, unless you live under a rock, you've heard of the proverbial "Roman Bath Tub", basically, a large tub in the newer and more expensive homes.  Though, this term is not without its history.

Taking the lead from the Greeks, Romans embraced bathing as a regular regiment for health.  However, Romans considered the baths more important than the gymnastics alone. Besides cleansing, exercises, socializing, relaxation, and worship, medical treatment was also applied extensively. Now as opposed to the Greeks who used Spas as a practice following intense Gymnastics, the Roman Spas also had a medicinal emphasis and were used largely as recuperation centers for the wounded military soldiers. However, recuperative also included therapeutic centers for the healthy soldiers as well.  Water applications to the ailing body were a general practice among the physicians in the ancient world.  Spa treatment consisted of application of water to afflicted parts of the body, immersion of the whole body in the water (especially for rheumatic and urogenital diseases), and drinking excessive quantities of water.

In Rome, there were primarily three types of baths.  There were baths at home (balnea), private baths (balnea privata), and public baths (balnea publica) that were run by the state. With the advent of the aqueducts, the concept of the "public bath" exploded to glorious edifices (thermae) with a capacity for thousands of people. The consumption of water leaped during this period, from roughly 12 litres to 1400 litres of water per person per day, mainly for bathing. The practice was so engrained that the Roman legions, during their long occupations in foreign lands, built their own baths at mineral and thermal springs in the newly conquered lands. Examples are found all over Europe. [5]

Although as everyone knows, the therapeutic and hygienic practices of the Roman public bath slowly lost ground to the social and gatherings of ill repute as the Roman morality went on the decline in the later years.

The Dark Ages, Indeed...

ancient hot tubsThe research on the common views of bathing are conflicting at best during this period.  However, with the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 and the rise of Christianity, it's widely believed that among the common polulation, the cleanliness regiment went to the wayside, for the Church viewed that the practice of bathing was a prelude to forbidden behavior;

Georges Duby, in an article in A History of Private Life, suggests:

Bathing and grooming were regarded with suspicion by moralists, however, because they unveiled the attractsions of the body. Bathing was said to be a prelude to sin, and in the penitential of Burchard of Worms we find a full catalog of the sins that ensued when men and women bathed together... Lambert of Ardres, the historian of the counts of Guines, describes the young wife of the ancestor of his hero swimming before the eyes of her household in a pond below the castle, but he is careful to indicate that she is wearing a modest white gown. ... [Public baths] were suspect because they were too public; it was better wash one's body in the privacy of one's own home. Scrupulous, highly restrictive precautions were taken in . . . monasteries. At Cluny the custom required the monks to take a full bath twice a year, at the holidays of renewal, Christmas and Easter; but they were exhorted not to uncover their pudenda." (p. 525)[6]

Bernard Rudofsky, in a speech reprinted in Interior Design, gives a more cheerful picture:

"In the Middle Ages,  bathing scenes woven into Gothic tapestries leave no doubt that bathing was indulged with equal gusto by prince and pauper. In the morning, the opening of the public baths was announced by the sound of trumpets and drums, whereupon the good burghers proceeded to them naked--a precaution against theft. For the stay-at-home a wooden tub was brought to the bed-chamber and filled with hot water. If the chronicles are to be believed, the wealthy had elaborate installations with pipes made of gold and silver, and one Heinrich von Veldecke, an epic poet, sang the praises of a golden tub. In the spring, bathing parties would move to outdoor pools and ornate basins, amid statuary and flowering trees. Dark ages indeed! "

The early Irish considered baths a major part of hospitality, and to not offer a guest the opportunity to bathe, or at least wash hands and feet, was an insult. Irish baths were filled with cold water and then heated by dropping rocks, heated in a fire, into the water. There are some suggestions that such heated rocks may have been used to heat saunas.

Bathing in tubs was done in private homes, in monasteries, and in communal bath-houses, which were very common in cities. In the late 13th century, bathhouses in Paris employed criers to announce when the water was hot. In Gasawa Poland, Duke Henryk the Bearded and Duke Leszek Bialy were attacked in the baths in 1227. By the 15th and 16th centuries, bath-houses in Western Europe had mixed clientele, and by the end of our period of study, the 'stews' had the unsavory reputation as houses of ill-repute we remember. [7]

16th century spa bathsCouple bathing as a prelude to intimacy is depicted in 14th through 16th century illustrations. Legal history suggests that ordinary public bath-houses were often segregated by gender, or different times or days were restricted for each gender. Private bath-rooms in castles, such as the one at Leeds, could often accommodate multiple bathers as well. There are many illustrations depicting groups or individuals (such as Bathsheba or Judith) bathing in fountains or spring-pools. It is hard to tell whether these are artistic fantasies, or interpretations of a common practice. [Similar illustrations show such water sources being used to wash clothes and cool wine, among other domestic chores.] Examples of such illustrations can be found in Frank Crisp's Medieval Gardens ( New York, Hacker Art Books, 1966).[8]

Regardless, from the 13th century onwards, baths gradually came into re-use, particularly in southern Europe under the influence of the Moors. Public baths were rebuilt and the entrance was usually free. The baths were often crowded and people bathed for hours, sometimes days in the same bath. Blood letting, enemas, and drinking cures (up to 10 litres a day) were prescribed, although relaxation and pleasure were most often the reasons for bathing. [9]

RENAISSANCE

Renaissance spa baths(Illustration "The baths at Louèche," by Hans Bock the Elder 1597)

In the early 16th century the image of the public bath was still on the decline, for they were perceived as sources of contagion, such as syphilis, plague, and leprosy, and the baths became dangerous meeting places for political and religious dissidents.  The economy did not help either, for not only was there a shortage of firewood, but the general upkeep of a public bath was too extensive to be supported in such an economic environment.  Nevertheless, the gentry continued to visit the baths, although they preferred to go to baths from natural sources with warm, mineral water instead of the public baths. [10]

However, as with everything in the Renaissance, the tide toward Spas change back to medicinal purposes.  Several famous Italian doctors recovered lost texts on medical treatment from the ancient world, and the value of balneology as a therapeutic modality was reconsidered.  By this time, the first attempts to analyse the waters for their mineral components were made, although the results were often controversial.  It was equally important to recognise the quality of each mineral and its effect on the body, as to know which parts of the body might be influenced by taking the waters  

In 1571, Bacci published De thermis, in which taking the waters was not a matter of empiricism, but a sound discipline. According to Bacci, essential to the cure was a quiet orderly life in pleasant surroundings with good food and wine, and a maximum of comfort.  Therefore, he argued, the baths would do no good to the poor. Other, practical obstacles also restrained the poor from attending the baths: they had no time for leisure and the baths and mud were usually not free. [11]

Minardo published in 1594 a compendium on the two baths of Caldiero in Verona. The first bath was used for drinking and bathing, the second was used by bathers with skin conditions, for bathing of animals, and for washing off therapeutic mud. Seventy eight conditions that might benefit from these baths were listed. The treatments consisted of drinking cures, bathing, purging, and application of mud. It was advised to follow this type of treatment for 15 days, and repeat it every year. [12]

The new bathing culture that had developed in Italy gradually spread over other parts of Europe, and was particularly popular with the elite. The development of spa treatment north of the Alps and by the turn of the 17th century, many spas were rediscovered in France. Two types of spas existed: hot springs for drinking and bathing, and cold springs for drinking cures only. Taking the waters in French spas was a serious activity and quite sober. Doctors created centres for treatment, not for leisure. Much attention was paid to purging, drinking cures, eating well balanced diets, and bathing. In the afternoons some indoor leisure activities were provided. Late in the afternoon, people walked about on the promenade, and went to bed early in the evening. This was in contrast with many other European countries, where in the evenings diverse leisure activities were offered such as theatre and dance.

19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES

Around 1800 interest in the bathing began to be in vogue again, and attempts to further  analyse the mineral benefits.  However, the motivation was largely medicinal again.  Doctors were convinced that for each disease there was an appropriate medicinal spring, which could be discovered through chemical analysis of the waters. Two main protagonists of the methodical application of hydrotherapy are Vincent Priessnitz, a peasant farmer in Gräfenberg, a German speaking town that is now part of the Czech Republic, who, in around 1829, revived it, poplularizing it once more and Fr. Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian priest, further developed the principles of balneotherapy (medicinal use of thermal water) and hydrotherapy (immersion of the body in thermal water for therapeutic purposes). Individual treatments were prescribed, based on the composition and temperature of the water. Also, combinations of treatments were developed consisting of hot and cold baths, herbal baths, mud packs, active physical exercises, massages, and diets. Kneipp advocated a holistic approach to the treatment of a disease. In contrast with the spa resorts, which aimed at the elite, Kneipp directed his attentions to the common man.[13]

Throughout Europe and the Americas the public Spas were on the rise.  The were integral parts of gentilian life. Every spa resort had its own theatre, casino, and promenades besides the bathing buildings. In Germany, Austria, and Belgium much importance was attached to ostentation. Grand hotels arose with casinos and dancing establishments surrounding the spa resorts. The spa resorts became not only a meeting centre for the elite but also a place of creativity for painters, writers, and composers. The baths were again crowded. Baden Baden (Germany) became the most glamorous resort in continental Europe. It was the place to see and to be seen."

However, in Britain use of the spa declined. The English spa resorts were run by amateurs, and the medical hydrology was poorly organised.  The resorts aimed more at pleasure, rather than medical treatment, and were exploited by estate developers with commercial interests. Competition from seaside and foreign resorts, and an economic depression in the 1930s led to a further decline. Eventually, spa therapy was excluded from the National Health Service, which meant that many spa resorts in Britain closed down. [14]

The American Experience...

1950's hot tubThe 1950s the first home hot tubs began to appear, mostly in California, USA.  Inspired by the Japanese ofuru, these early prototypes were still made from used oak barrels, wine tanks and olive vats from nearby wineries. Redwood hot tubs then began to appear, but often leaked and were difficult to keep clean. These tubs lacked effervescence and bubbles. By 1965, free sprits, "hippies" began flooding the coast of California with little money, and lots of free time on their hands and they started the proliferation of wooden hot tubs.  Most of these tubs were homemade with smoke-belching wood fired heaters. Water circulation, filtration, and sanitation were a little hit and miss.

1950s

In 1956, an idea was born. Why not treat a family member's arthritis symptoms with a hydrotherapy pump. The Jacuzzi brothers invented a pump and a small niche business was born. The J-300, a portable pump, was sold to hospitals and schools.

 

1960s

1960s hot tub 

This innovative spirit was captured by Roy Jacuzzi, a third-generation family member who had begun learning the business as a teenager. Sensing the American consumer's interest in health, fitness and leisure activities, Roy invented and marketed the first self-contained, fully integrated whirlpool bath in 1968. By incorporating jets into the sides of the tub, it became the bath that almost single-handedly created an industry.

 

1970s

1970s hot tubs spasWhen the shortcomings of wooden hot tubs became apparent, the first fiberglass shell hot tubs began to appear on the market around  1970.  The gel-coat fiberglass construction had its own drawbacks, and was soon replaced by cast acrylic shells and, for the first time, it was easy for the owner to achieve water cleanliness. Manufacturers installed pumps, filters, control systems and, of course, jets, although the first hot tubs had very few of them.

 

 

outdoor hot tubsWhen the shortcomings of wooden hot tubs became apparent, the first fibreglass shell hot tubs began to appear on the market around  1970.  The gel-coat fibreglass construction had its own drawbacks, and was soon replaced by cast acrylic shells and, for the first time, it was easy for the owner to achieve water cleanliness. Manufacturers installed pumps, filters, control systems and, of course, jets, although the first hot tubs had very few of them.

 

 

1970s hot tubsAs larger units were designed to accommodate several people, Jacuzzi incorporated heating and filtration systems to keep the water warm and clean, thus creating the first spa in 1970. In 1979, the family sold to New York-based Kidde Inc. All the family members left the business or retired, except for Roy, who stayed on to run the Jacuzzi operations.

 

 

Luxury  hot tub with built in TVModern Day Hot Tubs Spas

Today, there is almost no limit to the luxurious features you can get on a hot tub.  Some of the upgrades availalbe to include hi-definition waterproof LDC TV's, built in stereos with CD players, MP3 inputs and sub woofers for dramatic sound, DVD players that play on the TV,  waterproof floating remoe controls, water features such as fountain jets and water falls, countoured loungers molded into the shell, and color changing LED lighting packages that will beautifully highlight your spa.

Whether you want a basic hot tub with just a few jets, or a top of the line featured spa, with all of the bells and whistles, theres is a model out there for you.

 

References

1. A van Tubergen, S van der Linden A brief history of spa therapy (Ann Rheum Dis 2002;61:273-275 doi:10.1136/ard.61.3.273)

2. Calin A. Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Bath. A 250th birthday party [editorial]. J Rheumatol1988;15:733-4.

3. Croutier AL. Taking the waters: spirit, art, sensuality. New York: Abbeville Publishing Group, 1992.

4. Jackson R. Waters and spas in the classical world. Med Hist Suppl1990;10:1-13.

5. Schadewalt H. The history of Roman bathing culture [in Dutch]. Integraal1989;4:25-35

6. Greeka.com.  Ikaria: The Ancient Spa of Therma in Ikaria Greece, Eastern Aegean, http://www.greeka.com/eastern_aegean/ikaria/ikaria-excursions/ikaria-ancient-spa.htm

7. Braunstein, Philippe, "Toward Intimacy: The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries," in A History of Private Life: Volume 2: Revelations of the Medieval World. Georges Duby, ed. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1988), p. 535-632.

8. Palmer R. "In this our lightye and learned tyme": Italian baths in the era of the Renaissance. Med Hist Suppl1990;10:14-22.

9. A Short History of Bathing before 1601:  Washing, Baths, and Hygeine in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, with sidelights on other customs


[1] (Walloon (Walon) is a Romance language spoken as a second language by some in Walloon region (or Wallonia), Belgium)

[2] A van Tubergen, S van der Linden A brief history of spa therapy (Ann Rheum Dis 2002;61:273-275 doi:10.1136/ard.61.3.273)

[3] A van Tubergen, S van der Linden A brief history of spa therapy (Ann Rheum Dis 2002;61:273-275 doi:10.1136/ard.61.3.273 

[4] Greeka.com.  Ikaria: The Ancient Spa of Therma in Ikaria Greece, Eastern Aegean, http://www.greeka.com/eastern_aegean/ikaria/ikaria-excursions/ikaria-ancient-spa.htm

[5] Schadewalt H. The history of Roman bathing culture [in Dutch]. Integraal1989;4:25-35

[6] Braunstein, Philippe, "Toward Intimacy: The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries," in A History of Private Life: Volume 2: Revelations of the Medieval World. Georges Duby, ed. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1988), p. 535-632.

[7] Jackson R. Waters and spas in the classical world. Med Hist Suppl1990;10:1-13.

[8] Braunstein, Philippe, "Toward Intimacy: The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries," in A History of Private Life: Volume 2: Revelations of the Medieval World. Georges Duby, ed. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1988), p. 535-632.

[9] A Short History of Bathing before 1601:  Washing, Baths, and Hygeine in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, with sidelights on other customs

[10] Jackson R. Waters and spas in the classical world. Med Hist Suppl1990;10:1-13.

[11] Palmer R. "In this our lightye and learned tyme": Italian baths in the era of the Renaissance. Med Hist Suppl1990;10:14-22.

[12] Palmer R. "In this our lightye and learned tyme": Italian baths in the era of the Renaissance. Med Hist Suppl1990;10:14-22. 

[13] Calin A. Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Bath. A 250th birthday party [editorial]. J Rheumatol1988;15:733-4.

[14] A Short History of Bathing before 1601:  Washing, Baths, and Hygeine in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, with sidelights on other customs

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"I, (Rick Ricker), am the author of this article, History of the Hot Tub and I release its content under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 and later." 

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