Biological life is born in water and in water man has always found a source of physical and mental well-being. Since Greek and Roman times, plunging into hot springs or enjoying the warmth of steam has been a sort of “magical” practice with a deep symbolic and cultural value.
Ancient Greeks attributed supernatural powers to hot waters and their vapors, considering the thermal baths as means of restoration to health indicated by the gods themselves. In the V century BC Hippocrates wrote the Corpus Hippocraticum, the first medical treatise in history which described in detail the hygienic and healing effects of thermal waters and the consequent well-being in the human body.

If thermalism was born in Ancient Greece, it was only in Roman times that it truly experienced its golden age with the construction of the Thermae (from the Greek thermòs – “heat”). These magnificent public buildings became real social centers, places of leisure and conversations. The word “Spa” probably derives from the latin expression “Salus Per Aquam (health through water), as thermal waters were recommended for their therapeutical properties which ensured a healthier and longer life.

“Quamdiu ad aquas fuit, numquam est mortuus”

“As long as he went to the waters he stayed alive”

M.T.Cicero (De Orat. II, 67, 274)

During the Middle Ages the progressive decline of the Roman Empire, barbarian invasions, and the spread of Christianity led to a downturn in the fortune of the thermal baths, which progressively lost their social value. if on one hand the clergy condemned promiscuity and public nudity – believing that washing facilitated intercourse and therefore the loss of chastity –, nonetheless on the other physicians continued to study the different types of thermal waters and their specific clinical indications, leading to the birth of medical hydrology.

With the introduction of printing in the Renaissance era, these achievements could finally spread on a larger scale and, finally, in the XVIII century, scientific progress transformed medical hydrology from an empirical to an experimental science.
In the following century, there was a real turning point in thermal therapies with a consequent return to the concept of the Roman baths, namely those spaces for recreation and exchange of cultural and social interests. The subsequent burgeoning Belle Époque saw the emergence of “Elitist Thermalism” throughout Europe and the Americas, with the construction of new spas becoming a meeting place for the upper classes. Only after the Second World War was thermalism recognized as a social form of hydrotherapy, opened to a wider public, and eventually included in the therapeutic program of the Italian national health system.

Nowadays, health and wellness is a rapidly growing sector of the tourism industry; spas and natural hot springs are the places where one can still seek this deep and centuries long link between the human body and the healing power of water. In these suspended scenarios water is therefore considered capable of re-establishing physical and psychological balance: a chance for redemption.