Wonder of the Waters: A History of Essential Mineral Baths
For centuries, hot springs have offered numerous health benefits for everything from arthritis to indigestion. Sulfur, for instance, is credited with relieving nasal congestion, while sodium bicarbonate and calcium are said to enhance circulation. A number of studies have also indicated that soaking in hot mineral spring waters lessens the pain of arthritis. For instance, a study published in the August 1995 issue of the Israeli medical journal Harefuah reported patients bathing in the Dead Sea salt experienced improvement in knee pain. Other Israeli study results published in the April 2001 issue of the Rheumatology International indicated that hot sulfur baths helped relieve the pain and lessen the fatigue of fibromyalgia.
The benefits of hot springs, or mineral baths, were first endorsed by the Romans. They were so much a part of life that nearly every Roman city had at least one bath, which served as centers of public bathing and socializing. Throughout the Empire, baths sprung up wherever natural hot springs existed, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Algeria, and The Netherlands. Here, Romans bathed, exercised, and socialized with one another. They were used by the rich, poor, free or slave.
The hot springs in Baden-Baden, Germany, were well known to the Romans. In 1847, well preserved remains of Roman vapour baths were discovered below the castle. In fact, the direct translation of Baden-Baden is Baths-Baths. The name actually refers to both the city and the Baden region of Germany and the city lies along the Oos River in the Black Forest. One of the world's great spas, Baden-Baden has been popular with patrons of its natural mineral springs for centuries. In fact, Britain's Queen Victoria was an annual visitor who made the health benefits of Baden-Baden well known during her reign.
Today, the bathing houses in Baden-Baden are considered some of the most elegant in Europe. However, the baths cater to people of all means. There are a total of 29 hot springs, which is conveyed through the town in pipes to the various baths. The waters at Baden-Baden are known to bring relief for cases of rheumatism, gout, paralysis, neuralgia, and skin diseases.
One of the world's first health resorts, the Dead Sea is one of the world's saltiest bodies of water. Herod the Great, the Roman king of Judaea from 73 BC to 4 BC, enjoyed the healthful benefits of the Dead Sea, as well as Queen Cleopatra, who obtained exclusive rights to build cosmetic and pharmaceutical factories in the area. The region's climate and unique conditions created by its low elevation has made the Dead Sea a popular destination for a variety of health and beauty treatments. Multiple studies have shown the mineral essentials of the sea are effective for psoriasis, acne, and rheumatism. The Ein Gedi Spa, a well-established site on the shores of the Dead Sea, offers indoor thermo-mineral pools, resting areas, and a large outdoor bath containing rich, heavy black mud, which is ideal for ridding the body of poisons.
The healing properties of hot springs were espoused by the Native Americans, as well. When Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto reached the Valley of the Vapors in 1541, he was the first European to see the curative nature of what is now known as Hot Springs, Arkansas. For many years, tribes had been enjoying the springs - agreeing to put aside their weapons to partake of the healing waters in peace while in the valley. By 1832, the Hot Springs National Park was formed, which granted protection of the thermal waters, giving Hot Springs the distinction of being the first national park to be designated for government protection.
The thermal springs, situated in the Ouachita Mountains of Central Arkansas, emerge in a gap between Hot Springs Mountain and West Mountain. Nicknamed "The American Spa," visitors from around the world flocked to the natural hot springs. Today, this rich history is preserved in the faithfully-restored Fordyce Bathhouse, a museum and visitors center on Bathhouse Row. A variety of bathing facilities are open as well to visitors on Bathhouse Row and in hotels and spas downtown.
More than 100 years ago, the rich and famous traveled by private rail car to Mount Clemens, Michigan, to experience its magical mineral waters pumped from 1,400 feet under the city. Following the opening of the first bath house, "America's Bath City" reached its height of popularity with luxury resort hotels offering heated baths, which were widely known to relieve the pain of arthritis and rheumatism, as well as skin problems such as eczema. Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, Mae West, Babe Ruth, and European royalty made visits to Mount Clemens to partake of its mineral essentials.
In the 1900s, the mineral water from Mount Clemens drew thousands of polio patients. Legend had it that people came to the city in wheelchairs and left walking under their own power. Ultimately, eleven major bath houses operated in the city, supported by dozens of resort hotels, resulting in a thriving therapeutic industry.