Based on the natural springs

Anatomy of a Great Spa

European spa towns are centred on natural ‘curative’ mineral springs that act as nuclei for a specialised urban form and function designed for the combined medicinal, social and leisure use of mineral water.

The ‘Great Spa Towns of Europe’ component parts or towns, are distinguished by their dimension, complexity and integrity of the various elements of this urban form. They epitomise the grandest and most international resorts of the many hundreds of towns of the European spa phenomenon that flourished from around 1700 to 1900. They are the most fashionable and successful, and are the most significant examples that survive with the highest levels of integrity and authenticity.

In their prime, the influence of ‘Great Spa Towns' in matters of European cultural and artistic life, medicine, science humanities, politics, and the development of polite society was second only to the greatest capitals of Europe.

Anatomy of a Spa in summary

The historic urban landscape of a ‘Great Spa’ is summarised in the idealised diagram, where a distinct spa quarter based on the natural springs is shown at the centre with various elements radiating out from this core. In some towns there may be one source, or small clusters of sources, they might form a singular spa quarter. In some towns polycentric spa quarters have arisen as the result of multiple or widely distributed sources.

The internationality of a 'Great' Spa

Each ‘Great Spa’ shares common elements yet their structure and spatial layout varies depending on local geographical conditions and constraints. The common elements are:

Springs and sources and ensembles of spa buildings enabling people to ‘take the waters’ such as baths, pump rooms, drinking halls, and prototypes such as the ‘kurhaus’ and ‘kursaal’.

Places to take gentle exercise – walking and promenading (also meeting  and been seen by others) in paved and covered colonnades and galleries and landscaped parks and gardens, as well as in extensive networks of footpaths and trails in the surrounding woods and landscape.  Golf, tennis and horseracing were also provided.

Social activity – facilities developed for mixing  and socialising in assembly rooms and conversation rooms, and for ‘diversions’ such as gaming.  Casinos, theatres, opera houses, concert and dance halls can be found in most of the ‘Great Spas’ 

A range of accommodation was important to house large numbers of guests, and the number and size of hotels as well as numerous villas is a distinctive attribute of the ‘Great Spas of Europe’.

The urban landscape includes infrastructure that is especially linked to spas, such as hospitals based on mineral springs, funiculars that lead to lookout towers or restaurants in the landscape, river transport and railways, facilities to bottle and export the water and its by-products and even the pipework transporting the all-important water.  

Vistas: buildings and spaces connect visually with their picturesque setting of idealised nature 

Finally, the ‘therapeutic landscape’ – a green environment used regularly for exercise as a contribution to the therapy of the cure, and for relaxation and enjoyment.

  1. Location and Setting
  2. Springs: natural mineral water sources (thermal and cold)
  3. Urban ensemble of the Spa Town; with specific references to ‘spa architecture’
  4. The green environment of the ‘therapeutic and recreational spa landscape’
  5. Spa Infrastructure
  6. Internationalism, scientific, artistic and literary values, events and cultural tradition


Internationalism was omnipresent in the “Cafés”, “Salons” and “Summer Capitals” of Europe, which had become neutral places, a network of cultural coexistence that avoided the vagaries of politics and which was characterised by and ease with which ideas and people flowed across geographical boundaries.


Nomination of the Great Spas of Europe Volume 1-5, Description of the Property