Session: #257

Theme & Session Format

Interpreting the archaeological record: artefacts, humans and landscapes
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Spas: a Cultural Phenomenon in the Mirror of Present Archaeological and Interdisciplinary Research
Mineral springs and spas have been part of the European landscape and culture since Greek and Roman antiquity. They are highly specialized settlements dependent on the natural resource of mineral water.
Spas combine the use of the healing waters with religious or metaphysical ideas and actions, medical treatment and finally leisure – the otium. They are places of contemplation, encounter, communication and exchange between humans. Visiting a spa and “taking the waters” means to physically and mentally leave your home and your daily life with its conventions and duties and to adapt for a certain time to a different rhythm of life. Spas therefore may be considered as Europe’s first tourist destinations.
As time goes by, the religious and philosophical ideas, the social environment and the physical and social needs of the spa’s guests change. Even so change the material culture, infrastructure, architecture and urban character of spas – and also the archaeological remains.
Starting point of the discussion is the recent research at the spa town of Baden (Switzerland): initially a roman Aquae which became the most prominent spa in the German Empire from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Since 2006 large-scale archaeological excavations form the backbone of an interdisciplinary research project that unites archaeologists, historians and engineers. The research at Baden follows a diachronic approach with the goal of understanding the history and development of the spa from the beginning until today.
The session aims at giving an insight of the different scientific approaches and the present state of research at Baden and other spas in Europe and to put these in the wider context of the cultural phenomenon of spas.
As spa culture lives on, it shall also be reflected upon how archaeology and the material and intangible heritage of spas can become an asset for their future.
spa, antiquity, Middle Ages, Modern Times, diachronical, heritage
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Main organiser:
Andrea Schaer (Switzerland) 1,2,3
Didier Boisseuil (France) 4
Andreas Schaub (Germany) 5
1. Archäologischer Dienst des Kantons Bern
2. Berne University
3. Kantonsarchäologie Aargau
4. Université de Tours, Dept. d'histoire et d'archéologie
5. Stadtarchäologie Aachen