Spa…. it sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yes, this is the word used to indicate all balneological procedures, but it derives from the name of the Belgian town of Spa – known as early as the Roman times for its medicinal thermal springs. ‘Sparsa Fontana’/’Running Fountain’ is one of the versions of the presumed meaning and origin of the name.
Since the 16th century onwards, the settlement had been enjoying a huge attention and a countless number of guests until the 18th century, when it had lived through its full bloom and became popular not only for its healing springs.
Spa had been visited by so many prominent and influential personalities from the whole of Europe, and beyond, that it also was a stage for significant diplomatic and political decisions.
Next to the Russian Tsar Peter the Great stand the names of Emperor Joseph II, the Belgian Kings Leopold I and Leopold II, Pauline Bonaparte, the Sweden Queen Christina, Descartes, Victor Hugo, Casanova – to mention only part of the celebrities, visited the town, without observing the chronology.
In this connection, Emperor Joseph II called Spa in 1781 ‘the Cafè of Europe’.
In 1764, here opens its doors La Redoute – the first casino in the world.
Today, after several fires, a reconstruction, and renovations, its buildings don’t have anything in common with the initial ones. Its architectural appearance nowadays dates from 1918.
The great hall of the casino.
To the right of the casino, between 1862 and 1868 was erected the building of Le Bains/The Baths by a Flemish architect in the Neoclassical style. In 2004, it was closed in order that the baths were replaced on the hill over the town, named Annette et Lubin.
I’m adding some detailed photographs of the building to show you its beautiful ornamentation.
On my last visit in town, it occurred to me out of the blue, that the Belgian Spa is somewhat of an analog of the Italian-German Merano in South Tyrol (in view of the fact that they both are health resorts and both were visited by high personages, royalties, and celebrities). And the first thing that I came across that day was this:
the so-called Station Météo from the 19th century has its twin in Merano and both towns had given publicity to one another in some kind of business-tourist partnership.
The thermal springs around and in town are named „pouhon“ – a word, deriving from the Latin „potionem“ where also ‘potion’ and ‘poison’ come from. So, with the term ‘pouhon’ were marked not just any springs, but those with special qualities. And I have to make a note that until the end of the 18th century, the balneotherapy carried out in Spa was actually taking in of water – the so-called Crenotherapy.
Pouhon Pierre le Grand houses the head spring of the town.
That chance shot could transfer us into the time of Peter the Great.
Pouhon Pierre le Grand was named after Peter the Great who in 1717 spent a month in Spa.
Its building was rebuilt five times from the 16th century onwards. Its appearance in the middle of the 18th century served as the basis for the creation of the coat of arms of the town. Its present appearance dates from 1880.
In 1718, Peter the Great commissioned the make of that plate of black marble covered with Latin writing, along with the Russian coat of arms on it, as a sign of gratitude for his improved health.
In the foreground, there is the fountain from which the healing water runs – a rather modernistic installation. According to the photographs that I’ve seen, maybe the former classical-marble version seems better to me.
The ceiling of Pouhon Pierre le Grand.
Pavillon des Petits Jeux. The whole installation, built in 1878, represents two pavilions connected through a covered walk – the Leopold II Gallery. (Despite the disrepute of that Belgian king, some sites of interest in Belgium still carry his name. His wife, Marie Henriette of Austria, died in Spa in 1902, after spending the last 7 years of her life in that town.)
Pavillon des Petits Jeux was also a gambling-house, but the participation in the games was not so expensive like in the casino.
View from the Leopold II Gallery of the Parc de Sept Heurs, called this way as the visitors of the town went for a walk in the park precisely at 19:00 o’clock. The visitors at that time even had a special name – they were called “Bobelins” (in the plural).
Bobelin was a disparaging word during the 16th century, but in 17-18th centuries it became an honorable name of every guest of the town. The park was open to the public in 1758.
Putto with a trident on a dolphin – sculpture from a large fountain from 1862. At the far end, you can see the spires of St. Remacle’s Church.
The church in Spa, dedicated to Saint Remacle – the Aquitanian abbot who erected the monasteries in Stavelot and in Malmedy, was built in 1885 in the place of numerous former buildings, the oldest one of which was a chapel from the 15th century.
In the publication about Stavelot, I’ve already shown the works of art depicting St. Remacle, but now I will show them again:
A wooden statue of the saint from 1520.
One of the six wooden statues in the church, crafted by a pupil of Jean del Cour, who in turn was a pupil of Bernini himself. The statues date from 1750-1751.
At the far end, you can see the memorial of the Holy Sacrament Confraternity, crafted by Jean del Cour himself in 1669.
I’ve already mentioned that sculptor in a couple of other publications before and apparently, I’m going to mention him further, since he had crafted a number of significant (for a part of the territory that I will show on my blog) works of art.
Details from the Antwerpen marble pulpit.
Part of the choir furnishings.
I want to say in conclusion that, as you can see in the photographs, Spa is still carrying its aristocratic spirit from the time of Peter the Great, or maybe a bit later – from the 19th century, for instance. But personally, if I have to choose, I wouldn’t spend my holiday there. It is located too much to the north and the atmosphere seems too exacting to me. Let alone my ‘favorite’ French language. In short, if I can choose, I would prefer Merano or some other ‘warmer’ (in all respects) town that is located more to the south.
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