From Bath Houses to Health Resorts

Given the conditions of the times, the rulers, aristocracy, rich noblemen and the citizen elite in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) could take proper care of their health. One method of treatment was that of balneology, drawing on mineral springs, therapeutic mud, and sunlight. This kind of treatment was applied in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Before Lithuania had health resorts, public health was strengthened in bath houses. Their benefits were well known in the pagan Lithuania, steam baths were still a common thing after the baptism of Lithuania. All the members of the Jagiełło family members relished them.

The Lithuanian cleansing traditions

The Polish chronicler Jan Długosz recorded a joke about the pleasure Jagiełło took in having a bath. When at the end of the 14th century the Grand Duke agreed to marry a very young Jadwiga, part of the Krakow court that was opposed to him admonished her describing Jagiełło as a boor observing barbaric customs, with a body that was more animal than human. According to Długosz, no sooner had Jogaila crossed the border of Poland, than Jadwiga, concerned about the appearance of her prospective bridegroom, sent her confidant Zavisza from Oleśnica to inspect him. Zavisza was, without disclosing the purpose of his visit, to take a good look at Jagiełło.

Jagiełło may have learnt the purpose of the meeting or, perhaps, having worked it out himself, he warmly welcomed the guest and, after the banquet, suggested they have a bath so that the guest could “have a better look at not only the beauty of the ruler‘s body, but at its separate parts as well.”

Zavisza reported back favourably on the details of “the barbarian’s body” and Jadwiga was placated. The last Jagiellon also liked having a bath both in the morning and in the evening. Even during his trips Sigismund II Augustus was accompanied by a wagon carrying a bathtub and personal hygiene accessories. Seriously ill, Barbara Radziwiłł, the second wife of Sigismund II Augustus, ordered a bath to be prepared for her every day even though such bathing emaciated the patient.

Higher social classes enjoyed the pleasures of the bath. Larger estates in the 16th–17th centuries had steam baths. In the sources they are usually called baths; sometimes, when health services were provided e. g. mineral water was used, they were called “hot baths” (cieplice in Polish). At the beginning of the 17th century, the Dubingiai estate of Radziwiłł dukes had several bathhouses. In 1623, controllers recorded in the estate bathhouse a bathtub with a pipe set into the heating stove and two wooden bathtubs. There was yet another bathhouse with three windows and a green-tile stove in the ancillary building. The Radziwiłł family had a bathhouse built in their 17th century Vilnius palace.

Insipid, yet healthy waters

In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, there were places spurting mineral water since ancient times. Already in the 16th century it was used for the purpose of medical treatment. One of the bigger complexes, a prototype of a spa was set up around 1587 in the Radziwiłł’s Biržai household. Steam bathhouses alongside with a mineral water spa were set up in Likėnai, close to Smordonė mineral water springs. Local people had long known about the healing effect of the water from these springs. The low mineralization water had an unpleasant smell of hydrogen sulphide, similar to that of rotten eggs. The name Smardonė (Stinky Springs) is associated with foul odour (smrod in Polish). In 1611 the elder of the Biržai duchy took care of the construction of a bathhouse with glass windows. The work was carried out by craftsmen from Vyžuonai and Alanta. Also, a plot of vacant land was acquired on which a small house was built for people seeking treatment. In 1612 the spa/steam bath was already running and providing curative treatment. Among those who availed themselves of the services was the noblewoman Anna Kiszkowna Radziwiłł. According to the sources, she re-visited the spa in 1628 but she may have used the waters before and after this date. The baths were in good condition almost throughout the 17th century. In 1667 Bogusław Radziwiłł the GDL Master of the Stables underwent curative procedures there.

In the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century local people in spa resorts established in later years (Stakliškės, Birštonas) also used mineral water for health treatment. This is recorded in the stories told by the residents of the area at the beginning of the 19th century. However, at the time there were no special steam baths like those in Biržai. Higher level health spas were scarce in the GDL. Therefore, starting with the middle of the 16th century, the nobility headed for health resorts abroad. It was at this time that the first works on the curative benefits of mineral water treatment appeared (by Wojciech Oczko, Erzam Sikst, and other authors). It was believed that it helped individuals suffering from gout, nervous disorders, heart problems and other diseases.

Health tourism

Among the first health tourists we see the GDL cupbearer Stanislovas Kęsgaila, who visited the “hot baths” in the vicinity of Krakow in 1554. The Italian Padua and Czech Silezian springs were well known to the grand marshal of GDL Krzysztof Dorohostajski. The Vilnius castellan Janusz Radziwiłł was a regular customer of foreign health resorts, his favourite being that of Carlsbad. Starting with the end of the 16th century this kind of trips of the nobility became so frequent that sometimes they were advised by their friends not to overuse the baths. Thus, in 1593 the GDL chancellor Lew Sapieha advised one of the Radziwiłł family members to abandon the plan of going to Silesian springs. He thought that bathing in the hot springs would only increase the stomach pain. From the end of the 16th to the beginning of the 17th century the noblewomen, too, went to foreign resorts to improve their health. In 1605 the hot springs at Jelenia Gora (south-western Poland) restored, if only temporarily, the health of the duchess Zofia Radziwiłł-Dorohostajska. Even though they had their own water springs in Biržai, the Radziwiłł family went to foreign resorts more than once. In 1633 Krzysztof II Radziwiłł was going to send his wife to Slovakian health resorts.

In the 17th century the resorts attracting the majority of health-improvement seeking visitors remained the same: the Czech Silezia, Germany (Baden), and Italy.

Among the new trends was Eger in Hungary. The Radziwiłł favourites were Silesian spas, while the representatives of the Pac family (the GDL chancellor Krzysztof Zygmunt, the Vilnius bishop Mikołaj Stefan and the Vilnius voivode Piotr Michal) preferred Carsbad. In the 17th century Stefan Pac underwent treatment in Baden. He was astonished to see men and women bathing together in the same pool. In his opinion the ladies were clad too scantily. The Sapieha family members paid a visit to Eger several times in the 17th century. Compared to the 16th century, the number of trips to spa resorts doubled in the 17th century. Sources indicate that mineral water treatment was looked upon with favour by royal family mambers: Władysław Vasa and Maria Kazimiera, the wife of Jan Sobieski, greatly enjoyed it and were frequent spa visitors.

The rank and file had to be content with relaxation within the GDL. Among the Vilnius city elite trips to Trakai were very popular. In 1672 the Vilnius magistrate member Mikołaj Kazimierz Stroczinski spent some restful time there as well as the assessor Jozef Zegewicz and his wife in 1699. Those were more pleasure trips than trips seeking treatment.

Of interest to scholars and philanderers alike

The 18th century could be called the century of health resorts. New resorts emerged in Europe and the old ones expanded. The representatives of the grand Duchy of Lithuania discovered the advantages of having a rest in England (Bath). The purpose of trips to health resorts abroad also changed. If earlier the objective was to relieve health problems, the well-off in the 18th century sought pleasures of life.

It was in the 18th century that the expression u0022a resort flingu0022 came into being.

In 1773 Izabela Czartoryska appeared in a Belgian spa with her husband and two admirers but while there, she had several scandalous love affairs. Augustus II the Strong, the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, who had numerous lovers, liked Carlsbad. In 1712 he met the Russian tsar Peter the First there.

The foundations for the infrastructure of health spas is Lithuania were laid in the second half of the 18th century with the research into the Lithuanian mineral waters of Biržai, Birštonas, Stakliškės and Druskininkai. The mineral water springs of Smordonė were described in the second half of the 18th century. Around 1780-1790 the vice-chancellor Joachim Chreptowicz got interested in Stakliškės saline springs. Encouraged by him, Vilnius university professors, the physicist Juozapas Mickevičius and the chemist Jozef Sartorius investigated the springs and found the 1:200 salt ratio in its water. The findings intrigued the future professor Stanisław Bonifacy Jundziłł. In 1791 he visited not only Stakliškės, but also other places famous for their saline springs. In 1792 he published his findings in the booklet On Stakliskes Saline springs and Salt. Preparatory work to start the operation of spas was already underway, but political events thwarted the plans. Based on the research carried out by Jundziłł, they were opened at the beginning of the 19th century. Similar impetus at Druskininkai was given by Stanislaw August Poniatowski, the ruler of the Republic of Two Nations. Around 1790 he ordered that Druskininkai mineral water be analysed and in 1794 he issued a decree proclaiming it a curative area. The end of the 18th century marks the beginning of the true history of Lithuanian spa resorts.

Literature: Raimonda Ragauskienė Karališkojo Birštono praeitis. Istorinė raida iki XIXa., Vilnius, 2004 

Raimonda Ragauskiene