HEALTH AND JOY
The Austrian Imperial Baths from the historical centre of the Herculane Baths are the most attractive part of the city.
After the Roman retreat (AD 271-275), the Ad Mediam baths entered a long “cone of shadow “during the migration of peoples and in the Middle Ages, being used only by the native Romanians.
During the Turkish rule (1552-1716), the baths are known as a “gushing fountain” whose water heals the illnesses of the body, therefore even the Turks “keep this fountain in great honour” to take baths “in this pothole“. [Cristescu I., 2012].
After the Austrian soldiers occupied Banat, the Herculane Baths resort was reborn, rising as the Phoenix from its own ashes, with the coincidental discovery of the baths in 1728, which made a huge sensation throughout Europe.
As the chronicler Nicolae Stoica of Haţeg wrote “in 1724 the Emperor Charles began to restore the baths of Mehadia.” [Gogâltan M., 2006]. Following the peace agreement from Pojarevat (21 July 1718), Charles the Sixth, the son of Emperor Leopold I and the father of Empress Maria Theresa, initiated the reconstruction of the baths through the Governor of Banat, Florimund Claudiu Mercy. From 1724 until 1736 the Baths from Herculane were rebuilt under the direction of eng. Adam Doxan, while Europe was witnessing the development of the thermal spa resorts Baden Baden in Germany and Karlovy Vary in the Czech Province. It was quite fashionable in those days for the wealthy to visit these resorts and to take hot bath cures in their spare time.
In order to make room for the new buildings of the baths, General Andreas Hamilton, the successor of Count Mercy, started during 1734 and 1736 to “demolish” the old walls, and the antiquities saved from the gunpowder’s destruction were sent to the Court in Vienna to embellish the Imperial Library’s halls. A part of these sank unfortunately into the Danube in 1755, together with the ship carrying them. The first baths that started operating were: the Roman Baths, the Apollo Baths and the Venera Baths.
In the Hercules Square, facing the Hercules Statue, you can see the Roman Catholic Church that can be reached by climbing 19 steps. The chapel is open at any time of the day and any day of the year. On the frontispiece from the chapel’s fronton, supported on the four columns in the ionic style, you can read the year 1838, the year of the church’s consecration. A bell tower rises behind the chapel, where you can climb on the stairs below the forest. The church is dedicated to the “Ascension of Saint Virgin Mary”.
The first building on the right side of the square from the symbolic statue of the resort is the Apollo Bath with the Apollo I Spring, followed by the Apollo Hotel and the Hebe Bath. All three buildings communicate with each other through some short galleries.
The Apollo Bath is one of the oldest from the resort, dating from Roman times. Here were discovered the Roman baths, as well as a Hercules temple. It bears the name of the god of sun, light, music, poetry and arts, the son of Zeus and Lete.
After the Romans, the Austrians built in the same place in 1724 a new spa building, which they named the Communal Bathhouse. Burned by Turks in 1737 as a result of the Austro-Ottoman War (1737-1739), it was rebuilt between 1758-1760, with the name of the Great Bathhouse or the Main Bathhouse. In 1792, the building was covered with shingles, which is why it is also known as Shingle Bath, being the most famous at that time. Between 1846 and 1852, the Apollo Bath was built in its present form, with a modernization in 1970, when it was named Crisan, and now it deserves to be thoroughly restored. The thermal water is used from the Apollo I and II springs on the right bank of the Cerna. The Apollo II fountain is in front of the Outlaws’ Cave Restaurant, and Apollo I is nearly 100 m downstream of Apollo II, being captured on the premises of the bath. The Apollo Bath has 32 cabins and three white and red marble pools.
The Hebe Bath bears the name of the goddess of youth, the daughter of Zeus and Hera, the cupbearer to the goods. Over time, it has had several names: Chills and Swelling Bath, Bath for Joints Pain, Carolina Bath. Until 1792, it was a bath built of planks. The current building was built in 1826 and was restored in 1864, along with the Stone Bridge next to it. Above the bath there is a Viennese-style foyer with a red octagonal roof, adorned with a fine lace of fretted geometric ornamentation. The roof is supported by eight thin metallic pillars. Hebe’s bath is endowed with 8 cabins and a white and red marble pool. The Hebe Bath is supplied with thermal water from Apollo Spring and the Hebe Spring from the Cerna bank is for the internal cleaning. The Hebe Bath does not have its own hotel but communicates with Apollo Hotel and Decebal (Franz Iosef) Hotel.
From Hebe Bath, on the Stone Bridge with a covered hallway, you can reach Decebal (Franz Iosef) Hotel on the left bank of Cerna, and from here, through another gallery, you arrive at the Casino.
In 1801, the administration of Mehadia Baths resort was entrusted to the border regiment no. 13. “This year can be considered the beginning of a new stage of development of the resort, because since then only solid construction have been erected, most of them lasting up until today.” [Negrea Şt, 2002].
In 1817 the name of the resort was changed from Mehadia Baths to Herculane Baths (Herculesbad). This way they eliminated the confusion that was often made between the spa resort of Cerna Valley and the Mehadia locality situated on the old Roman road and the current E70 road, on Timis-Cerna Corridor.
The Hercules Square is the place that bears the aura of a past epoch, surrounded by monumental baroque and neoclassical buildings built at the beginning of the 19th century around the Hercules‘ Statue. The statue, which became the symbol of the resort, was erected in 1847, instead of a fountain built in 1826 of red marble and supplied with water from the Munk spring.
Cast from metal used for gun barrel, the statue was made in the workshop of Ramelmayer and Glantz in Vienna, being given to Herculane Baths resort by the successor archduke Carol, in gratitude for the healing of the soldiers who had been treated here.
Today, tourists can admire the resort’s symbol – statue representing Hercules wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion and the mace on the left shoulder. It is mounted on a metal plate placed on a socket-pump with four lion-mouths, from which water flows into a pool where fishes are romping and playing. Look at the statue and decipher the year of its inauguration written in Latin on a metal plate: MDCCCXLVII (1847).
Turn your eyes to the left and you will see the oldest building of the resort, preserved in its original form, that “of the executives of the Baths Administration”, with the same destination from 1811 until 1989. Through its neoclassical architecture, the splendid construction impresses through its elegance and the sobriety of its ornamental motifs. On the vermillion fund of the building you can see the white arches of the windows and of the balconies’ doors. The visitor who has the curiosity to look at the facade of the building will discover some bas-reliefs depicting suggestive scenes of the tourism, which was taking place at that time in the Herculane Baths.
A first scene presents the main natural wealth of the resort, the thermo–mineral springs.
The second scene shows two women bathing, showing the resort’s main touristic attraction, the thermal bath – treatment.
The third scene depicts a parent and a child, equipped with hiking clothes, representing a second attraction specific to the Herculane Baths resort, namely hiking around as a recreation.
The fourth scene portrays a young innkeeper, standing next to the slivovitz barrel, inviting guests, holding a flask in one hand and two carafes in the other, suggesting the places where the tourists can drink and eat at discretion.
The fifth scene shows a carrier that helps travellers to carry luggage, representing the comfort of the existing accommodation in the resort.
Continuing the walk, at the exit of the square, you reach the Diana Bath, near which is Ferdinand Hotel.
The Diana Bath is located on the right bank of the Cerna River and bears the name of the goddess of hunting, forests and the moon. The inscription carved on the wall at the entrance on the votive table shows that this bath was initially arranged by the Romans:
DIIS MAGNIS ET BONIS AESCULAPIO ET HYGIAE
The translation into Romanian shows that it is dedicated to the Greek god of medicine Esculap and her daughter Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health:
Marcus Aurelius, the commander of the 13th legion Antonia, gladly and rightly fulfilled all his promise to the great and good gods Aesculapius and Hygeia.
The current building of the bathroom dates back to 1859, until 1792 it was only a wooden building and in 1970 it was renovated. During the time it had several other names: Bath for bone pains, Ferdinand, Elizabeth and Closca.
Diana Bath has 10 cabins with sulphuric thermal water at 50 ° C, brought from the nearby Diana I and II Springs. Those who are treated for rheumatism descend into the “potholes” dipping gradually into the water.
Hotel Ferdinand near the Bath offers at least three – star board and accommodation and is distinguished mainly by its rustic garden from its premises.
Under Hercules’ view from the Diana Bath’s building, leaning on in its famous mace, as a symbol of the physical power, the road continues up to Diana III spring, recently renovated. The water of this “thermo-sulphuric, sodium-chloride, calcic and hypotonic” spring, with a temperature between 53-62 ° C, can be used for internal cure of digestive and respiratory diseases, sinusitis and other allergic conditions .
From the right of this spring the path to the Munk Spring begins.
The Neptune Bath, considered by the specialists the most important spa architecture monument from the resort, is soon to be reached.
Today the Neptune Bath is wearing new attires in the hope that it will regain its brilliance and animation of the past. It bears the name of the sea god, Jupiter’s brother, and was built in three years time (1883-1886), according to the plans of the architect Wilhelm von Doderer, an adept of the eclectic style, who also worked on the Peles Castle project.
At the time it was built, the Neptune Bath was considered to be the most modern balneal facility in Europe, with a hydraulic elevator and a water ventilation system powered by the water from the Munk Spring.
In time it has been named: Maria’s Bath, Szapary and Horia Bath.
The restoration of the Bath exactly as it was in the past will bring us emotions right from the main entrance. A large hall with a central dome will open in front of us, with a wonderful artesian fountain situated in the midst of it, adorned with an allegorical statue. From this hall, two galleries will open to the two pavilions of the building: one with sulphur baths, the other with salt baths.
The left-hand sulphur baths will have 32 booths and two pools, for which the thermal water is used from the nearby Neptune I and Neptune IV Springs.
The right-hand salt baths will have 32 cabins and two water springs from Hercules I Spring.
The access to the Austrian Imperial Baths can also be made from the Historic Centre of the resort on the Iron Bridge built across the Cerna River together with the baths between 1883 and 1886. The Iron Bridge, connecting the Neptune Bath to the Casino on a beautiful perpendicular alley, is a true art work, with elegant metal grids, a pedestrian passage paved with wooden planks mounted over the metallic sleepers and two cast- iron railings. The entrance to the Neptune Bath on the bridge is marked by a majestic portal with three openings and two iron lampposts, each with three arms.
Going down on Izvorului Street, on the right bank of Cerna, you can see from a distance the figure of the Hercules Hotel, with its two wings, built after the plans of architect Maria Viorica Zărnescu. Between the Neptune and Hercules Hotel, next to a shrine, you can see branching out the Nicolae Stoica of Haţeg street, with its three villas, whose architecture marks each a period of development of the resort: Dora Villa, Tolvay Villa and Belvedere Villa. Interlaced between them is the “The Birth of the Virgin Mary” Monastery, which delights by the inscriptions and the orthodox scenes painted inside.
Until the renovation of the Belvedere Spa Villa (built in 1928), you can have a rest in the gazebo situated in front of the villa and you will understand why it was named like that. In front of your eyes a beautiful panorama of the Cerna Valley opens, which will urge you to resume your tour of the resort from the Hercules Hotel downward.
The Hercules Spa Hotel is the first of the new modern spa buildings erected in the socialist period of the resort, put into operation in 1968. The hotel’s dowry should become a tourist attraction through its health spa supplied with thermal waters brought from the Neptune I and IV Springs, beach terrace, indoor swimming pool and Finnish sauna. Next to the hotel, the conical roof of Izvor I is mirrored in Cerna, whose thermal water was collected in a tower that can be seen nearby. It supplies the sulphur baths at Hercules Hotel and the Neptune Bath, its waters being indicated above all for rheumatic diseases and certain skin diseases as well.
As soon as you pass by the Market Bridge leading to the Banat’s natural products market in the resort, on the left bank of the Cerna River, after 250 m, you reach the two famous springs: Neptune III, to the right of the road, and the Stomach Spring (Neptune II) to the left.
The Eye Spring is a natural spring, captured in a new and beautiful fountain built in Brancovean style. Arriving at this spring, tourists can listen to the advice of the elders, who are resting in the sun on the nearby benches, regarding to the unique and natural recipe of the flooding the eye for the improvement of ophthalmic affections.
The Stomach Spring is captured inside the fountain located on the right bank of the Cerna and can be spotted after its conical blue roof, supported by concrete columns. The spring is used in the internal cure for gastric diseases, and its water is also indicated in diabetes.
The fountain has two semicircular side stairs descending four meters to the thermal waters, flowing through the mouth of a stone lion into a marble pool. You should not be surprised by the specific smell and the “milky” colour of the pool surfaces where the water falls. It is indeed a clear indication that the source is naturally sodium-chloride, calcic, hypotonic and sulphurous. The welcome of the graceful goddess Diana, situated on the marble statue near the spring, will also convince you about the effect of the cure.
After a short stop at the two thermal springs, the glance of the eyes to the reddish of the Venera’s Baths awaken our curiosity of continuing the return route on the other side of Cerna. Starting again on foot, on the wide loop of the river, after 500 m, you reach the Red Bridge, on which you can cross Cerna to the left bank. From the bridge you can admire the stylish Livia Villa, called today the Bank’s Villa, built in 1888. Near the villa from the Zăvoi neighbourhood is the starting point for hiking on several routes that climb up to Coronini Plateau. While crossing the bridge, you should look at the river and you will see the miraculous steam of the thermal springs from the shore of Cerna.
At the feet of the Red Bridge, on the left bank of the Cerna River, you can see the Traian Spring, the spring with the most constant chemical composition of all thermal springs from the Herculane Baths. The thermal waters of this spring are used in treatment baths at the spa hotels in the Modern Centre of the resort created in the Vicol Park.
From Traian’s spring you turn back on the road from the left bank of Cerna. Cerna Street is “bordered” by a sidewalk with railing and “slithers” through the forest between the mountain and the river. The stop at the Countess‘ Spring urges you to rest and then to start on the mountain paths to discover the beauties of Domogled.
After an approximately 500 m walk, you reach the Venera Spring and Bath, one of the first baths built by the Romans.
The Venera Bath is named after the goddess of spring, love and beauty, and it is famous its the treatment for vaginal irrigation and venereal diseases. The older locals from Herculane Baths remember how women from everywhere came here to treat these diseases or to make children and they went home being healed. The Venera Bath has also been named: French Bath, Francisca, Women’s Bath and Sulphur Bath.
It is also known as the Old Bath, because the legend says that the very first of the springs discovered by the Romans was the Venera Spring.
The legend of the discovery of the Herculane Baths
The legend says that the Romans discovered the curative effects of the thermal springs on the Cerna Valley grace to the horses. The Romanian soldiers, letting their horses graze freely in the picturesque valley, at the edge of the water, noticed how, after bathing in the water near the Venera Spring, the horses were healed of all the wounds suffered in the battles and the diseases caused by the hot summers and the dust during the military campaigns. They also found that the disease called scabies (rag) is very well treated with these thermo-sulphurous waters.
It is also said that the waters of the thermal springs flowing freely in the Cerna riverbed were then tested by the Roman soldiers, feeling directly upon themselves the healing and miraculous effects, recovering their exhausted powers in the wars and regaining their vitality. They reported to the superiors that there are places in the Cerna Valley where the energies of water, of the air and earth are extremely beneficial for health and for the treatment of certain diseases. This is how the baths dedicated to Hercules, the hero loved by the Romans, were built, becoming the most sought-after places for restoring health throughout the Roman domination.
The Venera Bath was one of the three baths, the Roman Bath, the Apollo Bath, and the Venera Bath, built at the beginning of the Austrian rule between 1724 and 1736. Burned by the Turks during the Austro-Turkish war of 1737-1739, the bath was rebuilt from wood in the period 1740-1755. The brick building of the bathroom, which dates back to 1838, was refurbished in 1969 and, after a period of degradation, it has been released to the tourism circuit in 2010. It has three cabins and two water-filled pools from the Venera Spring registered in 1929. Vaginal irrigation procedures and pelvis treatments for the musculoskeletal disorders are being carried out at Venera Bath, as they were written and applied since 1944 by the military doctor dr. Teodor Constantinescu, by then the director of the Military Sanatorium in Herculane Baths.
After looking at and tasting the peasants’ natural products in the resort’s market, continue walking to the historical centre of the resort and after 250 m you will reach the junction between Cerna Street and Mihai Eminescu Street where, right at the intersection, the Outdoor Central Thermal Swimming Pool lies. It was built in 1871 near the Maria Bath, where the “Cerna” Spa Treatment Centre functions today.
While the open-air thermal swimming pool is open only during the summer, the “Cerna” Spa Centre is open permanently; it applies both hydrotherapy procedures (shower and underwater massage, herbal baths, bubbles and steam baths), and electrotherapy procedures (ultraviolet, ultrasound, galvanization and ionization).
The accommodation of the tourists who come to the treatment in the pavilion is provided in the Cerna Hotel, located opposite the spa. The hotel’s building is an emblematic one for the resort, through its Romanian-style architecture. Cerna Hotel was built between 1936 and 1939, according to the plans of the architect Ioan Precup and with the financing of the Wealth Community of Caransebes. In front of the Cerna Hotel, from the shrine built in the honour of the heroes of December 1989, a short alley takes us to the Orthodox Church dedicated to the patronage of “Transfiguration“. The church was built on the current site in 1864, out of stone and brick. It is made in Byzantine style, in the shape of a Greek cross, with a central dome and an iconostasis painted by the Viennese Alexander Guth. The mural painting in tempera was performed much later (1936-1937), in an unusual style, by the painter Ioan Băleanu from Caransebeş. The entire area between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has the status of an architectonic reservation to protect the ancient but the very impressive buildings.
Also from the Cerna Hotel, you can climb on the Mihai Eminescu Street to the Domogled Spring with still mineral water. It is the well known Herculane Baths’ plain water, which can be taken directly from the spring, for free. Going down the Mihai Eminescu Street, you can reach the town hall of Herculane Baths.
Returning to Cerna Street, the road continues and you reach the Central Park framed on three sides by the Architectonic Ensemble of the Historic Buildings, consisting of: Traian Hotel, Casino, Elisabeth’s Villa and Decebal Hotel.
The Central Park was arranged in 1862 and is endowed with two artesian fountains and a gazebo in which the brass band usually sings on Sundays and on holidays.
Here was the famous Waltz of Herculane Baths’ born.
Visitors can admire freely two trees that are declared monuments of nature. The towering mammoth tree Sequoia Gigantea, brought from America, now 30 m high, 1.5 m in diameter and 4.75 m in circumference, and the centuries-old Tisa, a rare 12.5 m high conifer with a 2 m circumference. “Tisa is an indigenous tree with brown-reddish bark, having exfoliated portions in oblong tiles. Its wood has a pleasant reddish-yellow shade, it is elastic and it polishes well. “[Meila M., 2009].
The first building of the architectonic ensemble is Traian (Rudolf) Hotel, built in 1869 -1871 and renovated in 1969. Now, a new renovation of this architectural jewel with some unique ornamentation is very much needed, on the outside as well as on the inside.
The central part of the architectonic ensemble is the edifice of the Casino on the frontispiece of which you can read “SALUTI ET LAETITIAE” (Health and Joy).
The casino of the resort was built in the Austrian Baroque style, simply and pleasantly decorated, in the year 1864, two years after the planning of the Central Park. It has a beautiful terrace, covered with painted ceiling. In the past, the Casino had a dance floor, a restaurant on the ground floor, and the hall of the famous casino and a showroom was upstairs.
Today, the “Nicolae Cena” History Museum of the resort functions in the Casino.
The last building of the Architectonic ensemble is the Decebal (Franz Joseph) Hotel, built in 1860, as it is written on the frontispiece. It was originally called Franz Joseph, having an exterior and interior architecture commensurate with the talent of the Viennese architect Wilhelm von Doderer.
15 years later, in 1875, this famous architect will build Elisabeth’s Villa, another special edifice in the Architectonic ensemble of the resort. While Elisabeth’s Villa is in full renovation, the Decebal (Franz Joseph) Hotel is looking for investors.
As you pass through the Decebal (Franz Joseph) Hotel you reach the last objective of the touristic circuit, the Stone Bridge.
The Stone Bridge with covered passage was built in a curve in 1864, being one of the remarkable technical achievements of the resort in the nineteenth century. The lithographs of the epoch show that there also existed the variant of a wooden bridge built in angular shape ever since 1770. The floods and the wars with the Turks caused the destruction of the wooden bridge. That is why, in the year of completion of the Architectonic ensemble of the resort (1864), the Stone Bridge was built, making the connection between the Franz Joseph Hotel and the Apollo, Hebe and Diana Baths in Hercules Square, in the form in which it can be seen today.
However, it is necessary to turn the passage across the Stone Bridge again into a history gallery of the resort, illuminated at night, so that passers-by could admire a part of the 23 votive boards discovered on the territory of the resort.
Until the passage is renovated, try to stroll on the “Fireflies ‘Alley” of the Stone Bridge, named after the wonderful insects visible on warm and quiet summer evenings, true flying lights throughout the Cerna Valley.