Spa Towns as Places for Art
Places for art
Building the New Utopias
As places devoted to enhancing general well-being, spa towns stand as a unique form of settlement where every element built, human and natural, comes to answer the demand of health and entertainment of its visitors.
These places of healing, in which boundaries of class and gender were blurred and cultural activity came to the fore, were the first tourist destinations, inventing themselves as islands of leisure and pleasure.
These new Arcadias, non-places of happiness where life was somehow different, were first born on the imagination of visionary architects and artists who dreamed of the ideal city.
In order to fulfill the requirements of the thermal triad – heal, welcome & entertain – classic European spa towns organised themselves on the same town planning and architecture principles, the “spa town ensemble” that include 4 key elements:
True opulent temples of waters designed in coherence with treatments: drinking halls, pump rooms, baths, kurhaus, bouvettes...
...as gambling was one of the main attractions during the 19th Century. The range of leisure facilities also included places to dance, to dine, concert halls, theatres...
The Grand Hotel
...and other elegant lodgings, palaces and villas adequated to visitors' position.
Graceful gardens and promenades to walk by, as exercise and fresh air are a core element of the water cures.
A vibrant mix of artistic influences
The utopian, playful and social architecture of spa towns demanded beauty in all its forms, from the building’s structure to the plenty of ornaments and details that decorate them.
Famous architects and artists devoted themselves to this work, which answered not only a guest’s demand but also the classical principle for what beauty would help soothing the mind and the spirit.
Many of the great 18th century spa facilities followed the formal and functional solutions known in ancient Roman baths: formality, symmetry, opulent interiors with mosaic floors, marble walls, Corinthian columns…
The liking for the Graeco-Roman period inspired Neoclassical and Neo-Byzantine styles that would meet and overlap, ruling the aesthetics of spa towns for the period, with magnificent domes and vast structures.
During the Belle Époque spa towns witnesses how a new style was flourishing through Europe as a reaction to the academic neoclassical art.
These place embraced Modernism in all its acceptances: Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, Liberty style, Art Deco… Giving birth to the expression of new styles whose richness and diversity we have only just begun to appreciate: brilliant colours and fascinating forms filling new brand buildings designed for visitors’ pleasure.
As the railway reached the spa towns in the late 19th century, spas and train companies joined efforts in the advertisement of these elegant tourism destinations. As a result, numerous posters, postcards and brochures were published as a claim.
These primitive tourist publications, deeply influenced by the artistic trends of the moment, constitute today both unique charming art pieces and important historic records.
Being premier travel destinations, spa towns also fostered the long European tradition of travel diaries and memoirs, personal journals where literature dialogues with art. This practice is still very popular nowadays and spa towns continue to be portrayed by artists all over the continent.