Ancient features and beloved waters
The long history of spas in Tuscany
As in the rest of Europe, the popularity of spas began in the middle of the eighteenth century when the first analyses were done to establish the chemical and mineral content of the waters. However, the use of thermal springs really goes back a lot further, as far as Roman and Etruscan times. It’s known, for example, that the Etruscans used thermal springs in sacred rituals and that the Romans distinguished between ‘Balnea’ (thermal baths with a specifically curative purpose) and ‘Termae’ (public baths more for socialising, relaxing and maybe even for conspiring against your enemies, such as the Diocleziano in Rome). Unfortunately however, it’s almost impossible to talk about one comprehensive history of spas in Tuscany, as each place has a unique and individual historical background and different story to tell.
For example, it’s difficult to establish if the ruins in Roselle near Grosseto are that of a spa or of a public baths, as the spring has long since dried up (despite the fact that the area has many other thermal springs). It’s difficult to date the origins of the Bagni di Petriolo, a place much loved my Pope Pius II. In many cases the waters weren’t used continuously through time. Sometimes spas were built around a particular spring and then pulled down again. The spa at San Giuliano (near Pisa) was razed to the ground by the Florentines in the fifteenth century to punish the local population. The spa was then re-built by the Medici family and went on to become a hot spot for famous people such as the poet Alfieri, the royal families of Sweden, Denmark and Great Britain and Luigi Bonaparte.
The spa at Casciana came into being thanks to Matilde di Canossa. Legend has it the countess began to treat her gout with the spring waters after seeing a blackbird fly away from the castle and then return completely reinvigorated after having flown along a thermal stream. Today, that blackbird is represented in the town’s coat of arms. Like many other spas, Casciana was enlarged and was at its height at the end of the nineteenth century. In this period, more and more of the middle classes and famous people came to the spas in search of newly developed spa treatments and a increased sense of well-being.
It was also in this period that Montecatini really took off as a resort with an eclectic mix of grand hotels, casinos, bars and concerts frequented by poets, artists, actors and scientists. Giuseppe Verdi was so inspired by the atmosphere of the Montecatini spas that he stayed there for 4 five year periods and composed the third act of ‘Othello’ and ‘Falstaff’.
Years later, Giorgio de Chirico confessed that, “at Montecatini, the air, the water, the food, everything comes together to give you health and cleanse the organism of toxins, not only biological ones but also moral and intellectual, which otherwise corrode the body, the mind and the psyche of modern man.” This vision is still shared by many today. Researchers tell us that the demand for services connected to psycho-physical well-being is on the increase and not only among older more well-off members of the population. Because of this rise in popularity, many places in Tuscany have started to rediscover and make the most of their natural thermal springs.