Great Spas of Europe (Germany)
Great Spas of Europe (Germany) is part of the Tentative list of Germany in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Great Spas of Europe are a group of eleven spa towns from seven countries that represents the development of European spa tradition from its roots in the antiquity to the peak in the 19. and early 20. century. The architecture and urban layout of the selected towns illustrate this tradition. The focus is not only on the spa buildings, like Kurhaus, pump rooms, and colonnades. The property also includes parks, casinos, theatres, luxury hotels and villa districts. The German part includes the spa towns Baden Baden, Bad Ems, and Bad Kissingen.
Map of Great Spas of Europe (Germany)Load map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
The German part of this tentative site was reduced from the original six locations to three in the final nomination. And rightly so in my opinion. The remaining ones are: Bad Kissingen, Baden Baden and Bad Ems. I agree with Els that Bad Ems is not really impressive. So my review will focus on the other two German sites.
As in most of the other spa towns, the hot springs in Baden Baden were already used by the Romans. The remains of the Roman baths can be visited below the market square. The boom in the 19th century is closely linked to the granting of the casino licence. In summer, the high society frequented Baden Baden: Europe’s nobility, but also artists, composers and writers. Especially the Russians. Dostoyevsky fell out with Turgenev here. And Nikolai Gogol wrote about Baden Baden: "I only wanted to stay three days, but for three weeks now I can't break away. No one here is seriously ill. Everyone comes here to amuse themselves."
The most important spa buildings are the Kurhaus with the casino in the right wing and the Trinkhalle (pump room), both in neo-classical style with Corinthian columns. This is also where the Lichtentaler Allee begins, a two-kilometer-long footpath through an English garden along the river Oos. It is the usual promenade of the spa guests, you walk along typical examples of 19th century architecture: luxury hotels, museums and the theatre. A stroll through the villa district on the slopes above the park is also nice. The wealthy lived here in the 19th century and still do today.
I have visited Baden Baden several times, also long before the Great Spas of Europe were added to the T-list. Usually, the Friedrichsbad was my main destination. The Friedrichsbad is an irish-roman thermal bath, opened in 1877 and built in Neo-renaissance style. In most spa towns, the historic baths have long ago been replaced by modern sauna complexes with outdoor pools etc. Baden-Baden also has such a modern ‘sauna landscape’. But in the Friedrichsbad you can enjoy bathing tradition in the authentic layout from the 19th century, which in turn was inspired by the Roman Caracalla baths. I highly recommend it, even for those who are not big fans of sauna. The hottest room is 68°C, so not as hot as usual in a sauna. The body is stepwise warmed up and then cooled down again in a sequence of hot air baths (the Irish part) and steam baths and pools (Roman). The bath is textile-free, usually for men and women together, but there are also days for separate bathing.
I visited Bad Kissingen in 2016 and it was a pleasant surprise. The architecture and the townscape are different from Baden Baden and the Bohemian spa towns. The core of the spa district is a complex of four connected buildings: the Regent’s Building, the Arcade Building, the Brunnenhaus (pump room) and the adjacent Wandelhalle. Two of them, the Regent's Building and the Wandelhalle, were built only at the beginning of the 20th century. The whole complex is a mixture of different architectural styles: Biedermeier, Neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau. The photos show examples of the Art Nouveau elements, the interior of the Wandelhalle (photo left) and the Green Hall in the Regent's Building (photo right).
I liked the Wandelhalle and the Brunnenhaus best. Long rows of columns divide the interior of the Wandelhalle into three naves, giving it the appearance of a basilica. The Regent's Building is actually not open to the public, it is only for festivals and events. But when I arrived at the tourist information, a guided tour of the spa district was just starting, also including the interiors. The other buildings are freely accessible and you can also taste the mineral water, but only at certain hours in the morning and afternoon.
The Great Spas of Europe are a worthy candidate for inscription on the World Heritage List. As for the German part, two sites would be sufficient in my opinion: Baden Baden and Bad Kissingen.
The Great Spas of Europe will be discussed at the 2020 WHC meeting, whenever it will be rescheduled. I had ‘ticked’ it already in 2014 with a visit to Spa in Belgium and of course, like 553 others on this website, had been to the future double-nominated City of Bath in the UK as well. But with a serial transnational nomination such as this, it is always interesting to visit locations in other countries. Germany has 3 Spas left in the line-up for the 2020 nomination: Baden-Baden, Bad Kissingen and Bad Ems (Bad Homburg, Wiesbaden and Bad Pyrmont have been dropped). On my way back home from Worms I stopped for a few hours in Bad Ems, where they were eagerly awaiting the decision.
Bad Ems lies in the vicinity of Koblenz, close to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley WHS but on the river Lahn instead of the Rhine. The town with about 9,000 inhabitants extends on both river banks. It is therefore nice to walk along the waterfront and as many as four bridges allow you to get to that other side: two only for pedestrians and two also for motorized traffic. One actually has the best views of the buildings from across the wide river.
In the 19th century Bad Ems attracted visitors from all over the world to enjoy its spa facilities. Among them the Tsars Nicholas I and Alexander II from Russia and the writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, who had summer residences here. They were attracted by the beautiful setting of the town and its apparent health benefits, but they also enjoyed socializing with the European aristocracy. This Russian link has been visually preserved in Ems by way of the Russian-Orthodox church which is still in use.
The town still relies for its income on the spa business, although it has gone through hard times in the late 20th, early 21st century. When I took a walk along the waterside around 10 on a Sunday morning, I only came across a man with a can of beer in his hand (not his first of the day) and I saw someone smoking a cigarette on one of the park benches. The many restaurant terraces were also still waiting for customers. To be honest it all came across quite boring and old-fashioned, although well-maintained.
The only thing that sparked my interest was a sign for a historical hiking route, partly uphill through the forest and with panoramic views of the pretty setting of Bad Ems. But with an indicative duration of 3 hours, I found that too long for this short visit. So I just walked back to my starting point via the other side of the river. From that side you have a good view of the monumental Neo-Baroque buildings of the Casino and the Kurhaus, both originating in the 18th century but further extended by Prussian emperor William I in the late 19th century.
Bad Ems surely is one of the minor locations among the 11 remaining Great Spas of Europe. It seems to become the kind of town that enters the WH List piggybacking on stronger partners: Bath has already proven to hold on its own, I liked Spa for its Art Nouveau and others on this website have reviewed Baden Baden and Karlovy Vary favourably. Ems actually has pulled off this trick before, it is already blessed with a WHS as it contributes 3 unremarkable locations to the 439 of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire WHS.
Read more from Els Slots here.
I have been to several of the nominated towns and while I find the topic very interesting and most towns worth a visit I feel that the nomination is to big and includes too many towns with hardly any OUV. I think it would make more sense to nominate the best example(s) and not so many candidates. A good candidate from what I can see without having been there is the Czech triangle as a separate nomination. I feel the French, Belgian and Italian candidates have very little to offer and could be left out altogether. In Germany I have been to Bad Homburg, Wiesbaden and Baden Baden. All are beautiful and a nice visit but Baden Baden sticks clearly out for me: It was the most famous of the German Spa towns and had the most famous guests. The town center is, other then Wiesbaden, clearly centered around the spas and laid out in the most beautiful way along a park. It is still an active spa town and well renovated and exudes still the air of luxury and style. It even has a splendid casino, good museums and a few castles to complete the perfect spa town. I think it would make a perfect candidate on its own. Nearby Schloss Rastatt is a wonderful excursion.
Currently residing in Bad Homburg, I was pleased to learn that it is planned to be included as a part of this transnational proposal. If successful, this would make small Bad Homburg home of two WHS, the other one being Kastell Saalburg, the most significant part of the Limes in Germany.
Germany is home to many spa towns and indeed many also feature in this proposal. Bad Homburg used to be, and still is, one of the most prominent ones. Until WWII it was also quite international, with prominent guests coming for treatments, entertainment and social contacts.
The most prominent element of this site is the huge spa park designed by the famous French garden architect Lenne, who additionally planned the spa park in nearby Wiesbaden. Many functional and ornamental structures are scattered in the park: a bathhouse (of course), an orangerie, a historical tennis court, a historical golf course - first in Germany, a casino, a pond, a Russian Orthodox church and even a Thai Buddhist temple. The last two constitute evidence of the international nature of the Bad Homburg clientele. There are also several fountains and monuments. Everything is well kept and survived the destruction of WWII. Only the interior of the bathhouse did not fully survive.
A major lose, on the other hand, was the Kurhaus, an establishment found in every spa town that housed the cultural events. It was famous and lavishly decorated. A visit to the well preserved Kurhaus in nearby Wiesbaden can demonstrate what was once standing in Bad Homburg too. Now an ugly modern building stands there, but plans are underway to reconstruct the facade of the historical Kurhaus. I wonder how Icomos might react to that.
Next to the spa park is the Kaiser Friedrich Promenade, where many historical villas stand. Most of them are well kept and show the wealth of Bad Homburg's historical residents.
It is interesting to compare Bad Homburg to nearby Wiesbaden, a fellow candidate in this serial nomination. Unlike Bad Homburg, Wiesbaden was not bombarded during WWII and its magnificent historical buildings all survived unaltered. Wiesbaden features an impressive ensemble of monumental buildings: the casino, the spa theatre and the bathhouse. Bad Homburg features nothing parallel in the category of monumental architecture. On the other hand, the park in Bad Homburg is much larger and rich in monuments. Wiesbaden developed into a true industrial city. It has a large boulevard next to the spa monuments, but no historical residential villas on it.
Comparing the two, it is interesting to see how the concept of serial nomination works: Bad Homburg and Wiesbaden are not just good exemplars of historic spa towns each. They also represent different aspects of the same phenomenon. Knowing Baden-Baden, Baden bei Wien and Franzensbad, I consider this transnational serial nomination to be a valuable addition to the WH list. I would also recommend visiting more that one of the towns on the proposal in order to grasp the ideal of the spa town at the turn of the century.
2014 Added to Tentative List
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