History of the baths
Discovered by the Romans, a distinctive spa culture has emerged around the Baden thermal springs over the centuries. Whether Romans, Helvetians, Habsburgers or Swiss Confederates, they all benefited from the curative effect of Baden's thermal waters and helped shape the spa culture. The present appearance of the district is still influenced by its heyday in the Middle Ages when two public baths and around thirty private baths housed guests from far-away places.
The city of Baden has a 2,000-year history as a spa town and has played an important social role as far back as the time of ancient Rome. In 14 AD, Roman legionnaires from a camp in Vindonissa, around five kilometres away, discovered warm springs at the bend of the River Limmat that were said to have healing powers. A settlement of merchants and artisans emerged in today's baths district, whose natural warm springs have a magnetic power even today. During the age of Roman antiquity, Baden played an important social role. Key parts of public and private life took place in the thermal baths. The approx. 10,000 soldiers from the nearby military camp in Vindonissa came to soak in the waters in the baths district and had an impressive bath centre built. It was destroyed after around 400 years of Roman settlement by the Alemanni and lay in ruins for several centuries.
The Middle Ages
The baths only became important again during the feudal period of the Middle Ages. From this point on, spa treatments were ascribed a special status. The baths district saw a lot of activity, especially in the 16th century. Artists, nobility and clergy from throughout Europe flocked to the baths district and sought to outdo one another with jewellery, clothing and gifts. The journey to Baden for a spa treatment was called the “Baden journey”. A spa treatment generally lasted 6–8 weeks. During this time, 5–20 spa treatments, each lasting up to eight hours, were conducted every day or every other day. To enhance the spa treatment, patients also underwent ‘cupping’, took long walks or detoxed by drinking the mineral water. In addition to such cleansing rituals, the healing baths were also an oasis of revelry. Nude bathing was practised in part and it was common to drink and eat in the baths. In its heyday, the baths district had two public and around 30 private baths.
Starting in the 15th Century, the Swiss confederates liked to hold their “Tagsatzungen” (legislative assemblies) in Baden because of the baths. The painstakingly restored “Tagsatzungssaal” (legislative assembly chamber) is mainly used today for weddings and is open for viewing.
In 1847, the first railway line in Switzerland (the Spanischbrödli line) connected Zurich with Baden, bringing many new guests to the baths. As a result, hotels and restaurants in Baden experienced a boom. With the construction of the Kursaal (Spa Hall), spa guests could attend the theatre, concerts, dances and plays from 1875.
The First World War put an end to the dazzling spa resort of the Belle Epoque.
After the Second World War, the spa resort of Baden increasingly focused on medical services and rehabilitation. The author Hermann Hesse wrote in his novella "Kurgast" about the spa resort during the interwar and post-war period.
Towards the end of the 20th century, the baths went into crisis, as the infrastructure, namely the thermal bath built in 1963/64, no longer met the demands of the clientele.
Since the turn of the millennium, the baths are slowly being revived. The unique thermal springs should again become a visitor magnet, a meeting place and the emblem of the city of Baden. The construction of the thermal bath by architect Mario Botta is the first step towards a prospering future of the baths once more.
You can learn more exciting and interesting facts during a guided tour through the baths district.
Today's baths district is of great importance to European cultural history with its unique collection of buildings. It is nestled at the bottom of a narrow valley and stretches along the bend of the River Limmat on both the Baden and the Ennetbaden side. You can still marvel at the old baths from the 14th and 15th centuries. The Blume, Bären, Ochsen, Schlüssel and Hörnli hotels have the same names as they did 500 years ago.