In the Land of Thermal Baths
MORE than 2,000 years ago, the Celts founded a settlement in the vicinity of several mineral springs and gave it the name Ak-Ink, meaning “Ample Water.” Today, Ak-Ink is known as Budapest—Hungary’s capital and one of the oldest cities in Europe. Early settlers enjoyed occasional dips in the warm-water springs, which were refreshing and eased aches and pains.
In the first century C.E., this part of Europe came under Roman rule. The Romans enlarged the settlement and built a military camp there, which they called Aquincum. The name is believed to derive either from the Celtic word for water or from the Latin expression aqua quinque, meaning “five waters.” The Romans built aqueducts, sewage systems, and baths, both private and public. So Budapest’s baths have a long history.
It was centuries after the Roman Empire went into decline that the baths began to flourish again. In the 15th century, contemporary writers praised the thermal baths close to Hungary’s capital, thus boosting the city’s popularity. King Matthias Corvinus, who ruled Hungary from 1458 to 1490, is said to have connected his favorite spa, the Rácz Bath, to the royal castle by a covered passage. The spa was thus accessible whatever the weather.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Turks occupied much of Hungary, including its capital. They built steam baths and hot-water baths, both of which play an important role in Islamic ceremonial bathing and are an essential part of Turkish social life. The Turks’ magnificent baths were dome-covered pools surrounded by steps. The water was about shoulder high. Tubs and resting places surrounded the pools and were used alternately by men and women. Some of those baths are still in use.
In 1673 a travelogue described baths in the area now known as Budapest as being among Europe’s finest because of “their abundant thermal springs and curative powers, as well as the size of the buildings for bathing and their beauty.” In the 19th century, spa culture was enriched when the Finnish steam bath, or sauna, became better known. In time, saunas, steam rooms, and cold-water pools were added to Budapest’s baths.
The Area’s Geology
Some 18 million gallons [70 million L] of water a day gushes from Budapest’s 123 hot springs and 400 bitter-water springs. What explains this abundance? The answer lies in the area’s geology.
The Danube River, which flows through Budapest, separates the hills of Buda, located on its west bank, from the flat, low plains of Pest, located on its east bank. At some time in the distant past, the sea covered this area and left deposits of limestone and dolomite. These rocks were covered by layers of clay, marlstone, sand, and coal.
Cracks in the earth’s surface allow precipitation to penetrate deep into the ground, where hot mineral-rich rocks heat the waters. Steaming and under pressure, the waters then gush back to the surface, either along cracks or through wells.
This geological situation is found not only in Budapest but also throughout Hungary. Hence, many localities in the country boast mineral-rich waters and beautiful baths, which some believe have medicinal and healing properties. *
Hot springs have long been appreciated in many parts of the world. Their discovery in the wilderness of Seir, between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, was even remarked on in the times of Bible patriarchs.—Genesis 36:24.
Man still has much to learn about the complexities of the planet on which we live. Just how did God lay the foundations of the earth and make all the wondrous things in it? Pondering such questions moves God-fearing people to stand in awe at the Creator’s unfathomable wisdom.—Job 38:4-6; Romans 1:20.
^ par. 11 Awake! does not endorse any particular form of medical treatment.
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A thermal bath in the Gellért Hotel
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The Rudas Baths, built by the Turks
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The Széchenyi Baths during the winter
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All photos: Courtesy of Tourism Office of Budapest