SPA - History

The health springs of Spa have a long, rich and colourful history. 

They were first mentioned in the journals of a Roman naturalist called Pliny the Elder who lived during the first century A.D., when he spoke his book “Natural History” of “a famous fountain in which bubbles sparkle”.  Coins bearing the likeness of Emperor Nerva (96-98 A.D.) provide evidence of the Roman’s stay in Spa.
The word Spa is probably derived from the latin word Sparsa, the past participle of the verb Spargere (to gush forth).
In the Fifth century, the barbarian invasions brought about the decline of the Roman Empire.  But the qualities of the waters of Spa and of the region were soon recognised by the new inhabitants.

In the Middle Ages, the popularity of the Spa waters was reflected in the variety of legends which “sprang up” on their medicinal and “magical” properties.
According to tradition, Spa is associated with the fame of Saint Remacle, a bishop and apostle of the untamed Ardennes, a mighty builder of monasteries and churches, a destroyer of idols, possessing power to purify fountains and to cause water to issue from sacred springs.
People came from around the world to take the baths, and to obtain relief from their ills by contact with the springs.
Popular medieval literature also new about the therapeutic of the “Pouhon of Saint Remacle” (the word “pouhon” has its origin in the Walloon form of the old French “puison”, that is, a place where water is drawn ;  or “poison” derived from the Latin “potionem”, meaning beverage or drink).
A curious tale also deserves to be related in detail ;  at the end of the middle Ages, newly-married bridegrooms were in the habit of taking their bride to drink the water of the Sauvenière spring at Spa because this spring enjoyed a reputation for a rare efficacy in imparting fertility. 
This miraculous peculiarity derived from the presence nearby of an imprint of Saint Remacle’s foot left in the stone.  The great Saint had thus for evermore left trace of his having passed that way.  It was sufficient for the young matron to place her food in the marvellous imprint and to drink water from the spring to be assured of progeny.  Down the ages many visited the spot and the superstition still survives.  The Sauvenière Spring is often thought to be the oldest known spring in Spa.

Sixteenth century medicinal works praising the beneficial qualities of Spa waters.  Among them, Doctor Gilbert Lymborgh (ca 1495 – died Liège 1567), the personal physician to Cardinal Erarde la Marck, Prince-Bishop of Liège, has played an important role.  He wrote about the “acid fountains of the Ardennes” a thesis of exceptional quality in which he strongly recommended the Spa waters.  This work was translated into Latin, Spanish and Italian and enjoyed considerable success, carrying the name of Spa across the world and attracting a flood of distinguished visitors.

Thanks to the fame of its fountain, Spa had the honour of witnessing onwards a pageant of the most outstanding personalities in political life, in the arts and in the literature like

Michael Yquem Montaigne, French theologian in 1580,
Henri III, the French King in 1583,
Descartes, the French philosopher in 1645,
Tsar Peter-The-Great in 1717,
Gustave III, King of Sweden in 1780,
Louis-Philippe, King of France in 1787,
Pauline Bonaparte, sister of Napoleon in 1812,
Duke of Wellington, the victor at Waterloo in 1818,
Tsar Nicolas I in 1821,
Leopold I, the first King of Belgium in 1833,
Alexandre Dumas, the French writer in 1857,
Victor Hugo, the famous French novelist in 1864,
Jacques Offenbach, composer famous for his operettas in 1870,
And so many others !


Sauvenière Spring

Saint Remacle Church, built on 1885

The Golden Book (1894) : The Pouhon Fountain is surrounded by a gathering of prominent people

Saint Remacle, bishop and apostle