by traditionalism and history, Hungarian Baths continue to
draw large crowds. Inder Raj Ahluwalia uncovers the secrets
of its medicinal waters
Aquincum Corinthia is a spa centre that offers modern
diagnostic and therapy facilities
descend here from the world over to soothe their minds and
bodies and seek elusive cures for aching joints. And the city
takes them in hand and rejuvenates them.
Be it for rituals, washing, cleaning or easing aches and pains,
for thousands of years man has used thermal waters. And though
time has changed the role that baths have played in healing
and medicine, their essence and character remains unchanged.
They were greatly sought-after and flourished in Europe right
from Roman times till today.
Some baths have been known for 2,000 years. The Romans built
the first baths on the territory of todays Hungary,
when Pannonia Provincia was part of the Roman Empire. Aquincum
was the provinces capital (today it forms part of northern
Budapest, on the right-bank of the Danube). The baths drew
their supplies from springs that rise at the foot of the Buda
Hills, and the water was piped from here direct to the baths.
To date, archaeologists have uncovered 21 baths, the largest
being the central military baths (Thermae Maires). Public
baths apart, beautiful mosaic bathing rooms have been uncovered
in the houses of wealthy Roman citizens. The Magyar tribes
who conquered todays Hungary in the ninth century established
their main settlements around thermal springs rising at the
foot of the Buda Hills.
Budapest is the worlds only metropolis and capital with
over 100 thermal springs and wells which feed some 50 baths,
and the worlds greatest thermal destination. The 1960s
saw Hungary embark on a huge baths development programme,
upgrading older baths, and building dozens of new medicinal
ones, swimming pools and strands. The beneficial effects of
medicinal waters on the body include bathing, drinking or
inhalation cures, with the past decade spawning major changes
in the approach to bathing therapies. Though natural bath
treatment remains the mainstay, healing programmes that relied
solely on bathing have been superseded by complex therapy
systems utilising a complete range of natural healing methods
like massage, electrotherapy and therapeutic gymnastics.
Medicinal water is mineral water medically proven to have
healing effects. Hungarys fame is owed to the fact that
thermal waters lie far nearer the surface than they do elsewhere.
Balneotherapy (treatment involving medicinal waters) also
includes mud therapy. Mud used in pack form is highly beneficial
for treating chronic locomotor and gynaecological illnesses.
One of the most beautiful survivors from the Turkish period
(first half of the 16th century), during the Ottoman rule,
the Kiraly Baths was already using water from springs that
fed the Lukacs Baths, piped here through larchwood conduits.
All thats changed today is that plastic pipes now transport
the healing water. Glass mosaics decorating its main entrance
cupola hall, the famed Szechenyi Spa Baths is among Europes
largest spa centres, and one of Budapests elite institutions.
Fed by thermal water, the bath features an out-patient ward
treating post-operative orthopaedic, articular and trauma
cases, and chronic locomotor disease patients.
Rudas Baths have been fed by springs that have been known
to man ever since this area was settled. The present thermal
baths were built in the 16th century by Pasha of Buda, Sokoli
Mustapha, still functioning in virtually unchanged form. Three
famous springs (Hungaria, Juventus and Attila) and 15 smaller
ones feed the baths, with the mildly radioactive, calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonate
waters containing fluoride and sulphates, mainly useful for
the treatment of chronic locomotor disorders. The water of
the Juventus spring is also utilised in tub bath form, and
as the name suggests, has rejuvenating effects.
A local landmark, and most famous baths, Gellert Medicinal
Baths springs have been tapped for 2,000 years. One
of Europes few baths built in Art Nouveau style - todays
building was erected during the First World War, between 1914-1918
- the baths are combined in one building with the world famous
Gellert Hotel that offers its guests a full range of services.
Its calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonate, mildly alkaline
medicinal water with chlorine and sulphur content - taken
from 10 springs - is curative for chronic, degenerative locomotor
Located on the Buda side by the foot of Elizabeth Bridge,
the Rac Baths radiate old-world charm. Known since the days
of the great humanist ruler Matyas Corvinus (15th century),
early documents show the establishment was once directly connected
to the royal palace. A fitness centre functions in the building.
The Turkish baths built here in the 16th Century is still
in operation. Also important are the Lukacs Baths which was
a bathing spot in Turkish times, though the current building
dates from the second half of the 19th century.
Feeding the baths are several springs and wells with water
arriving at temperatures of between 21 and 49°C, with
compositions of calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonate, with
the hotter waters also containing fluoride, chloride and sulphur.
Available are balneotherapeutic facilities like physiotherapy
courses and mud treatments. Its water supply drawn from medicinal
springs on Margaret Island, the five-star Hotel Aquincum Corinthia
is a spa centre with modern diagnostic and therapy facilities,
also open to non-residents. Linked and sharing their medical
facilities, the Danubius Thermal Hotel and the Danubius Grand
Hotel feature baths fed from medicinal springs on Margaret
Island. Their range of therapy options aside, the hotels feature
specialists in the field of ultra-sound diagnostics, neurosurgery,
sports surgery and cardiology. Also taking its water supply
from the thermal springs on Margaret Island, is Danubius Thermal
Hotel Helia, which is equipped with the latest medical facilities
and offers several fitness options.
The National Institute for Rheumatism and Physiotherapy, the
worlds largest such institution, has a 1,000 beds for
patients with locomotor disorders, offers diagnostic and therapy
facilities, and operates physiotherapy and rheumatology clinics.
Patients are referred to the attached Csaszar Baths. Budapest
also features a string of attractively sited strand baths,
generally open in summer. Prominent ones are Csepel Strand
Baths, Palatinus Strand Baths, Paskal Strand Baths, and Dagaly
Backed by traditionalism and history, Hungarian Baths continue
to draw the crowds, and are cost-effective by international
standards. Charges differ from bath to bath. Upscale establishments
like Gellert and Kiraly charge entrance fees of USD 10-15
approximately, exclusive of other facilities and services.