The European Spa Project

"The European Spa as a Transnational Public Space and Social Metaphor" project (2019-2022) is part of the HERA Humanities in the European Research Area funding initiative of the European Union devoted to “Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe“. Within this framework, our project rethinks the spa as a core concept and object of European debate. It investigates how the European spa, with its characteristic institutions such as the Kurpark, sanatorium, grand hotel and casino, developed into a transnational public space and functioned as a stage for the negotiation of political, social and cultural issues of European relevance.

Focus History and Memory

Within the focus History and Memory we investigate the development of spa institutions (source, park, Grand Hotel, casino) and their geographical spread across Europe, including the emergence of “off-springs” like the seaside resort and the climatic spa; the consequences of this spread in terms of political and cultural geographies (centre-periphery relations), developments and emulations of the model over time, and the competition among the spas for European customers; the social opening of the spas, in close relation to the development of societal changes and technical innovations enhancing spatial and social mobility.

Focus Literature and Culture

The European spa is a literary topos in the double sense of the word, as locus and as motif. Taking the waters, spa romancing, gambling for one’s life - in the sanatorium as well as in the casino - are eminent topics. The specific attraction of the spa for literary ‘treatments’ stems from its nature as a meeting place, where people of different nationalities, religions and classes cross paths. Consequently, the spa in literature is often used as a social metaphor in a more general sense, as ‘paradise on earth’, a model of the perfect society, a hideaway from the impositions of everyday life or even a dystopian place for controlling body and soul.