Hydrotherapy In Ancient Greece

Hippocrates (460- 375 B.C.), who is considered to be the father of medical science and hydrotherapy was the first who systematically studied the therapeutic use of hot and cold baths and disconnected it from religion. He classifies the waters in three categories: drinking water, saline water and sea water (water drink, saline, sea). By the term “saline water” he meant the curative waters.

Greek Baths in Ancient Olympia

In his works he highlighted the effects of the climate, morphological conditions and nutrition on the human health. The complete works of Hippocrates on water and climate are undoubtedly the first clinical hydrotherapy which he passed down to the future generations. His beliefs about climate and the healing effects of waters and baths provided the basis upon which the science of climatotherapy and hydrotherapy was formed.

Within the Hippocratic writings is the remarkable classic “Airs, Waters and Places”.  Not only did it concern itself with the curative effects of various mineral waters, but also with the therapeutic properties of the airs and microclimates of various locales.

Pirene Spring was considered the most remarkable spring in Ancient Korinthos. It is said that Helen of Troy also bathed in Pirene Spring.

Hydrotherapy in the Roman era

Ancient Roman Baths

The love of the Greeks for the baths was inherited and developed by the Romans. The Romans were true lovers of baths and bathing was for them social obligation and non- swimmers were punished. 

Diocletian baths in Rome

Famous were their public baths, called thermae, which were used for personal hygiene and socializing. The progress in plumbing water systems played an important role on the construction of baths and the development of spa. All around the Empire the Roman baths were huge and luxurious and worked among others as areas of communication and entertainment.

Baths of Caracalla in Rome

The Baths of Caracalla were more like a leisure centre than just a series of baths. Besides being used for bathing, the complex also offered facilities for taking walks, reading/studying, exercise and body care. The Baths were the second to have a public library within the complex and were ornamented with high quality sculptures, estimated to have numbered more than 120! Among the well-known pieces recovered from the Baths of Caracalla are the Farnese Bull and Farnese Hercules; one of the many statues is the colossal 4 m statue of Asclepius. Two granite tubs were taken to Piazza Farnese where they still serve as fountains.

Hydrotherapy in the Byzantine era

The baths were a prominent feature of urban life in the Byzantine period. Apart from their main function as places of body cleansing, baths were also centres of social life and meeting as well as entertainment venues where the Byzantines spent a large part of their day. There, city dwellers, especially women, who had not many opportunities for public appearances, enjoyed a swim, met friends and discussed about a variety of issues. The baths operated all days of the week and were visited by people of any sex, age or social class. 

Baths of Salonica in Greece are regarded of the oldest of Byzantine era
The Byzantine Baths of Paramythia, Greece

Even Saint Helena of Constantinople returning from Jerusalem to Constantinople stopped for a bath in the port of Pythias of Marmara. As a matter of fact, during her reign, she shattered the sanctuary of Asclepius next to the hot springs and ordered to build Gorgona vaulted baths.

In summary, it is worth noting that during the Byzantine period, and despite the objections of some of the Church Fathers, the use of baths and hydrotherapy is an indisputable fact. Their use, however, ceased at the end of the Byzantine period and spas were limited to common baths in the Islamic world.

Hydrotherapy in Modern Greece

In Modern Times, the interest for the recording, studying and developing of the curative springs, began from Kapodistrias Government. In 1845 queen Amalia expressed her interest, on her way to balneotherapy to Kythnos and so a special bath building with marble bathtubs was built. In 1877 the curative baths of Aidipsos, which were ruined by the Turks in 1814, started being reused and the thermal city of Euvia became a major attraction for tourists. From about 1925 to 1950 the bathing places of Greece thrived.

Hydrotherapy in Greek Mythology

Greek mythology is abundant in references to life-giving water. Water is considered the source of life and energy that grants strength, cure, health and well-being. Lots of curative springs that are known today, were connected with certain deities. Goddess Artemis, protector of nature and water, was worshiped in Thermi Lesvos and in Kastalia spring, near the Delphi Oracle. In the spring Thermopiles Hercules used to bathe and regain strength after every feat. The Nymphs, who were daughters of Zeus and were called Naiades and Ydriades, were the protectors of waters. They lived in fresh water and they possessed the ability of magic and prediction. The goddess of youth Ivi, bathed in the curative waters of Patras, so that she could preserve her youth, while the spring of Ypati was devoted to the goddess Aphrodite.

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