Life Force: Zsóry fürdő: – Searching for Oil, Discovering Water

The one essential ingredient for life is certainly water. Earth, the only entity in the entire universe that is home to life, has 72% of its land mass covered by water. Human beings consist of about 60% water. A person can go on a hunger strike for weeks on end and still manage to survive, but going without water for more than three days is almost impossible. In the modern age, water sometimes seems to be a forgotten resource. Perhaps because water is relatively plentiful in Eastern Europe, its critical role in sustaining life there is often overlooked. When was the last time anyone talked about drilling or searching for water in the region?  Whereas oil and gas are constantly making headlines.

A Crude Solution – Energetic Prospects
The news is filled with articles about the search for new forms of energy, such as gas exploration using fracking technology in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Then there is the search for oil, a vital natural resource scarcely found in the region. An oil exploration boom did take place starting in the middle of the 19th century. The largest discovery opened up the Ploiești field in Romania. It soon became one of the largest oil fields in the world. Today they still hold quite a bit of crude oil.  Presently, Romania’s oil reserves stand at approximately 600 million barrels, third in the European Union. Other than Romania there are no other nations in the region that have large quantities of crude oil reserves (excepting Russia of course). Some smaller pockets of oil do exist, a few of which can still be found today producing modest yields. In Hungary there are two of note, the Algyő and Nagylengyel oil fields in the southern part of the nation. Other than these, oil exploration in the Carpathian Basin has almost always come up dry.

Statue of Lajos Zsóry

Statue of Lajos Zsóry in Mezőkövesd

Yet there was one fascinating case of a discovery that turned out to yield quite different results from what was expected. A common cliché is that “oil and water” do not mix, in this case that phrase turned out to be true. Nonetheless, the search for one led to another. After Hungary lost access to its main reserves of oil due to the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon, oil exploration had been taking place across the country. The majority of exploratory wells turned up nothing. This did not stop geologists from continuing to drill test wells in parts of Hungary where the soil had shown little possibility of containing oil. One of these areas was in northeastern Hungary near the estate of a minister of Parliament, Lajos Zsóry. The land was just a couple of kilometers from the town of Mezőkövesd, an area known for its rich soil which had been cultivated for centuries.

Zsóry fürdő - the early days

Zsóry fürdő – the early days

Gushing Forth – Zsóry’s Waters
In the winter of 1939 another resource was discovered in the area, this one came from beneath the land. During the drilling of a test well an unbelievable gusher was hit, but not of oil. Instead, a geyser of thermal water exploded out of the ground at the scalding temperature of 68 degrees Celsius (154 F). 3,000 liters of water per minute spewed upward and outward. In a few weeks, the torrent had increased to 5,000 liters. In the past, other test wells had also struck water rather than oil, but never anything like this. Certainly a discovery of this magnitude could not be ignored. Mr. Zsóry soon realized that the powers of these thermal waters on his land could be harnessed. Such an auspicious start soon led to the construction of a thermal well. At first, the Zsóry discovery was marketed as mineral water. Then just eighteen months later, the first thermal pool was constructed. It would eventually grow to become the Zsóry fürdő (Zsory Bath), a place that tens of thousands of Hungarians would come to visit every year. Testing of the water revealed an incredible degree of mineral content.  From the sulfur laden water emanated an odor of rotten eggs. It is still so powerful that today, those driving along the nearby highway can smell it.

The odor may be bad, but the water contains miraculous curative powers. This is due to the high concentration of hydrogen, magnesium, and bicarbonate. Because of the abundance of these minerals in 1968 the Zsóry complex was certified as useful for medicinal purposes. Since that time, it has become one of the most notable medicinal baths in Hungary. The water is especially well regarded for its ability to soothe the aching joints of those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Since the first pool was constructed in 1940, another twenty pools have been added. The bath and pool waters range in temperature from 24 C (75 F) to 37 C (98 F). The facilities can now accommodate over 8,000 visitors, each of them looking for their own therapeutic experience.

Zsóry-fürdő as it looks today

Zsóry-fürdő as it looks today

An Unexpected Discovery
Zsóry fürdő has come a long way from those early, halcyon days of discovery. The bath complex is used as much or more for pleasure than healing. Yet it is also a place to reflect on water’s critical role in sustaining life. Oil explorations and discoveries may receive most of the media attention and a lion’s share of investment, but this is only a byproduct of the modern age. Industrialization has only existed for a scant two hundred years, humanity many thousands of years longer. Without water, humanity would have never made it to the industrial age. And without water, unlike oil, there would be no life. The water at Zsóry fürdő sustains and enhances life.

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