Hurray! UNESCO Adds Three Czech Spa Towns to World Heritage List

A group of major European spa towns was added to the highly prized World Heritage list on Saturday for their “exceptional testimony to the European spa phenomenon” from the 18th century to the 1930s, Unesco said.

This includes Baden bei Wien in Austria, Spa in Belgium, Karlovy Vary, Františkovy Lázně and Mariánské Lázně in the Czech Republic, Vichy in France, Bad Ems, Baden-Baden and Bad Kissingen in Germany, Montecatini Terme in Italy, and Bath in the United Kingdom.

The World Heritage Committee, meeting in China for its annual session to review the list of world heritage sites, said the group captured “the most fashionable, dynamic and international spa towns among the many hundreds that contributed to the European spa phenomenon”.

“Whilst each spa town is different, all the towns developed around mineral water sources, which were the catalyst for a model of spatial organisation dedicated to curative, therapeutic, recreational and social functions,” it said.

Karlovy Vary

Karlovy Vary, also known as Carlsbad, is a charming little spa town known for its amazing variety of healing thermal springs. The area offers a variety of walking paths you can use to get to the various springs to relax in, many of which are bordered by colorful houses.

The town was established in the 14th century by Emperor Charles IV after—as the legend goes—he accidentally stumbled upon the area’s thermal springs while out on a hunt. Following the Emperor’s lead, people have been coming here to take the waters ever since, and most of the current architecture is the result of the mineral spa boom of the 1700’s and 1800’s.

Mariánské Lázně

Immortalized in the title of French director Alain Resnais’ groundbreaking 1961 film, “Last Year at Marienbad,” (though the film doesn’t actually take place here), Marianske Lázně’s roots go back to the 14th century, when its carbonated springs belonged to the monks of the Tepl Abbey.

In the late 1700’s, it was the work of the abbey’s physician in proving the water’s curative properties that helped make the town a popular wellness destination. By the early 1900’s, close to a million bottles of mineral water from the town were exported every year, while over time the town regularly hosted boldface names like the writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe, composer Frederic Chopin, Russian Czar Nicolas II, and even Thomas Edison.

Františkovy Lázně

Located about 30 minutes from Karlovy Vary, Franstiskovy Lázně—or Franzenbad, named for Emperor Francis II—may have a population of just around 6,000, but it was once the most important spa town in the region.

First discovered in the 1500’s and used in health regimes, the town’s slightly carbonated mineral waters were latter bottled and sold all over Germany, at one point selling more than the waters of all the German spa towns combined. In its heyday, the town housed 24 mineral springs (depending on the season, 12 to 23 are still in operation), as well as one of the first peat pulp baths in the world.


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