For 2 000 years, the history of "the Queen of spa towns" has managed to be both unique and also form part of the wider movement of European spa towns.
Becoming a spa town
The town has been built around the water since Ancient times, both the river, Allier which was used for communication and trade, and the mineral springs whose benefits were already known. From the 17th century, the town owed its identity and development to the actions of women such as the Marquise de Sévigné, Mesdames de France or the Duchess of Angouleme.
The imperial spa town
In the 19th century the rise of balneology was facilitated by the preoccupations of a health-conscious society, the development of new means of communication, the rise of a wealthy middle class alongside the old aristocracy and the birth of a leisure-oriented society. The support of Emperor Napoléon III led to Vichy gaining a reputation as the “Queen of spa towns” among a network of spa resorts which were both rivals and partners.
During the Belle Époque, sumptuous and modernist public works gave Vichy the attributes of a major resort, maintaining its reputation. The French colonial empire supplied numerous clients and visitors reached their peak during the 1930s.
The Second World War put an abrupt end to the glorious era, with the government of Maréchal Pétain settling in the city and practicing a policy of collaboration with the Nazis. Although the inhabitants of Vichy were in no way responsible, this has led to an unfortunate confusion between the city and this government which remains all too frequent.
Vichy reinvents itself
Since the end of the war, Vichy has striven to regain its status without disowning or concealing any part of its rich and complex history.