Hungary has literally been a hot spot of thermal bathing for two thousand years. In Obuda (Old Buda) the ruins of Roman baths can still be seen today. Baths were already a part of Magyar culture even before the Ottoman Turkish invasion in the early 16th century. Bathing was enhanced by the Turks who brought their own designs and philosophy in tapping Hungary’s fertile mineral springs. After the Turks were forced out, bathing continued to grow in popularity. The Hungarians have constructed thermal spa baths that are famous throughout the world. The most well-known of these, Széchenyi-gyógyfürdő (Széchenyi thermal baths), can be found close to Heroes Square in the heart of Budapest. It takes waters from a hot spring discovered only in 1879. Because of the bountiful natural springs found within the city, Budapest has rightly been called the “world’s spa capital.” It is home to approximately one-hundred spa and bath houses.
Fürdős for the Masses – Springing Forth
Because of the Budapest baths outsized fame, provincial Hungary’s bathing options often get overlooked. What a pity, because the rest of the nation contains an abundance of “fürdős” (Hungarian for baths) of every imaginable temperature and configuration. A thousand hot mineral springs can be found scattered across every region of the country. Combined they spew forth eighteen million gallons of mineral laden water each day. No wonder bath complexes are an integral part of so many provincial cities and towns. The baths are there to provide all Hungarians with healing and relaxation. One of the more unique baths to be found out in the hinterland, well known to Hungarians, but not to foreign tourists happens to be on the fringes of an old industrial city in northern Hungary.
The city of Miskolc has become a byword for the rusted residue of communist era industrialization. Once the second biggest city in the nation, it has continually lost population over the last twenty-five years. The heavy industry it once relied upon in the mid to late 20th century now seems like ancient history. As market forces took hold, the Hungarian economy was forced to compete on a global scale. Without government price supports, subsidies and a built in market behind the iron curtain, the city’s industrial base collapsed. This set the city adrift economically. Today, a quarter century on from the fall of Communism, Miskolc finds itself still searching for prosperity. The best that can be said for the city’s economy is that the stagnation has at least stabilized. Tourism will never replace the thousands of jobs lost in the post-communist era, but it does offer the city a viable way of bringing in outsiders and much needed revenue.
Going Underground– The Heart of Miskolctapolca’s Matters
The quintessential Hungarian experience of soaking in a mineral bath goes underground on the edge of Miskolc. Not far from the gritty industrial environment of the city is the suburb of Miskolctapolca, bordering on the verdant Bükk Hills, a landscape that acts a natural antithesis to the parts of Miskolc pockmarked by urban decay. Here lies one of the most unique thermal spa facilities in the whole of Europe. What is now known as the Barlangfürdő (Cave Bath) has been undergoing development for medical and commercial reasons since the early 18th century. Geologically it has been under development from time immemorial. The baths consist of both indoor and open-air thermal pools. Many of these are set amid scenic chambers and rocky walls. The most famous of these stretches for 150 meters. Bathers soak in the ambiance while they recuperate in these soothing waters. The waters are known to be especially good for curing joint ailments.
The site’s history dates back to a Greek Orthodox abbey that constructed the first pools, albeit outdoors. Periods of development and neglect followed until the city of Miskolc purchased the site in the early 20th century. The municipality coveted the site as a consistent supply of municipal water. The springs were able to fulfill this obligation and continue to do so today. Currently, they supply half of Miskolc’s drinking water. Just before the onset of World War II, a thermal bath was opened on the site, but not within the cave. It would be almost twenty years before the cave bath was ready. After its opening, Miskolctapolca became a major attraction. As Miskolc’s population boomed during the post-war period of heavy industrialization the baths continued their growth in popularity. New rooms and passageways were opened, utilizing warmer waters. The water temperatures start at 30 C (86 F) then warm all the way up to 36 C (96.8 F). Besides the cave setting, one of the other unique features at Barlangfürdő is that soakers can stay in the waters for hours. This is due to the fact that the thermal waters at Miskolctapolca have a relatively low salt content, unlike most other mineral water baths found in Hungary.
Make It Real, Make It Miskolc
Miskolc will never make anyone’s list of must see destinations in Hungary. The city’s reputation even among Hungarians is less than stellar and for tourists, visiting is a far cry from the delights of Budapest. Yet the city does offer the Barlangfürdő, which is just a few kilometers away from the unsightly and played out industrial past. Though the rusting hollowed out edifices of Miskolc’s dead industry and the natural splendor of the Barlangfürdő would seem to have nothing in common, they are actually a reflection of Miskolc and the immediate area. They are both real. What more could be asked for when searching for a true travelers experience.