The History of Spa and Spa Treatments

The extent of the Roman bath is revealed at ruins and in archaeological excavations in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

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Some of the earliest descriptions of western bathing or spa practices came from ancient Greece. The Greeks began bathing regimens that formed the foundation for modern spa procedures. The earliest such findings are the baths in the palace complex at Knossos, Crete, and the luxurious alabaster bathtubs excavated in Akrotiri, Santorini; both date from the mid-2nd millennium BC. They established public baths and showers within their gymnasium complexes for relaxation and personal hygiene.

Greek mythology specified that certain natural springs or tidal pools were blessed by the gods to cure disease. Around these sacred pools, Greeks established bathing facilities for those desiring healing. The Spartans even developed a primitive vapour bath.

The Romans emulated many of the Greeks bathing practices, although Romans surpassed the Greeks in the size of their baths. As in Greece, bathing played a major part in ancient Roman culture and society. Bathing was one of the most common daily activities and was practiced across a wide variety of social classes. After a morning's work, most Romans enjoyed spending the afternoon at the thermae or public bath. They were a social meeting place. Men and women enjoyed coming to the baths not only to get clean but to meet with friends, exercise, or read at the library. The baths had hot and cold pools, towels, steam rooms, saunas, hair cutting salons, reading rooms, libraries, lecture halls, gymnasiums, and even formal gardens. In addition, the Romans used the hot thermal waters to relieve their suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, and overindulgence in food and drink.

Most Roman cities had at least one Thermae. In 354 AD, Rome alone was documented to have 952 baths of varying sizes in the city. 

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The Romans raised bathing to a high art, which included a far more complex ritual than a simple immersion or sweating procedure. The various parts of the bathing ritual (undressing, bathing, sweating, receiving a massage with oils, and resting), required separated rooms which the Romans built to accommodate those functions. They built lavish baths on natural hot springs and the construction of aqueducts provided water that was later heated for use in the baths. In many ways, thermae resembled modern-day spas.

References:
1. http://www.crystalinks.com/romebaths.html
2. (Constant, 1995; Constant, 1998; Guillemin, 1994; McIlveen, 1998)

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