The bath culture of Hévíz

Hévíz, a bath town known for hundreds of years, is just a stone's throw away from Lake Balaton. It is a place with a particular microclimate, one of its special features is the mysterious fog or mist that actually covers the lake, the other is the waterlilies on the surface of the water. Already the Romans could know about the beneficial effects of the medicinal lake, but Hévíz became a real bathing place because of the activities of the Festetics family. Its peak of popularity was in the period between the two world wars, with thousands of visitors due to the lake-based medicinal tourism. Still, the lake kept its secret for a long time, as attempts in the 1900s to find its source were unsuccessful. This week, the mysteries of Hévíz will be revealed.


Its name first appeared in a charter dated in 1328 as “locus vulgarites Hewyz dictus”. In the 16th century, the Ottomans burned down the settlements along the lake, which were thus degraded into insignificant sites without paying taxes. The bathing life was not significant until the 18th century, which of course does not mean that the lake was not used, for example, for fishing or hemp retting, but the maps made in the period referred to the area as a scrubland mostly.

How did the lake become famous? The first scientific description was given by the doctor of Zala County Dr. Ferenc Szláby in 1769. Later, the German-language work of Károly Windisch, mayor of Pozsony, published in 1780, revealed that the stream, called Hévíz, smells of sulphur and had healing effects both externally and internally.


At that time, this estate already belonged to the Festetics family, and György Festetics did a lot of work on how to make the lake suitable for bathing. The medicinal lake and its surroundings, of course, looked quite different at the time, and the fact that there was little space on the Festetics estate for construction made it difficult to create a spa. Developments were also made, especially between 1795 and 1797, when the count had plank houses built for changing clothes, which the people could use free of charge. Yet perhaps the most important development was the backfilling of the bush, the laying of the foundations of the spa in the swampy soil with which Ótelep (Old Settlement) was born.

However, this did not make the lake famous yet; it needed some publicity as well. The 28-page description of József Babótsay certainly made an impact, as according to contemporary recollections, those wishing to recover were transported from Keszthely to Hévíz. On Sundays, there was a perfect cart camp by the lake, with a steak house, a stable, and all kinds of entertainment for visitors. For the first time in a newspaper in 1801 - in Magyar Hírmondó (Hungarian Herald) - József Gutten, a doctor from Keszthely, advertised the Hévíz bath. However, in spite of all the innovations, it remained mostly a bath for less affluent peoples. With the death of György Festetics in 1819, all expansions stopped and the development of the bathing resort was stalled for many decades.

Change did not occur until 1858, when a free bathhouse was erected on the western side of the lake. This could only take place after the Festetics estate acquired suitable areas for construction on the western side from the diocese of Veszprém and the owners of Szentandrás.
Until the 1870s, a number of stone buildings were completed, and they were simply numbered. The houses numbered I to VII were one-storey buildings, except for the seventh, which became known as the first multi-storey building in Hévíz, these houses became the foundations of the later medicinal bath hospital.
The Festetics family leased the spa as of the 1880s, but the tenants did not incur higher costs during the short lease periods, so no major investments were made in the area. People wishing to recover still preferred to travel to the famous western spas than to the hot-water bath.


In 1905, the family might have changed their minds, because they leased the bath to beer factory owner Vencel Reischl from Keszthely, for 35 years. This long-term contract already allowed serious transformations taking place. Reischl undertook a difficult task, because besides building the spa, he also had to generate guest traffic. Construction began; Reischl expanded buildings with storeys, set up restaurants and hotels. The 23-room Csányi House was completed in 1906, and the Kurszalon (bathing resort salon) in 1909 and the renovation of the dilapidated bathhouses finally began. In 1906, a domed bathhouse was built on the site of the central bathhouse, so visitors could bathe in the rain as well. The Hévíz Sanatorium and Spa Hotel opened in Alsópáhok and it predicted the prosperity of the area. In 1909, the village of Szentandrás changed its name to Hévízszentandrás, referring to the proximity of the famous bath. In 1911, the spa complex was given the title of spa settlement.

The period between the two world wars is the age of medical therapies. It is worth mentioning Dr. Vilmos Schulhof, who was the bath doctor in Hévíz from 1906, and in 1908, he also founded a sanatorium. In 1911, he created the so-called Zander Institute for the disabled, where all sorts of therapeutic medical examinations were done.

In 1940, Hévíz fell into the hands of the Festetics family again. However, this was no longer the period of spa development; the hotels of Hévíz served as accommodation first for German and then Russian soldiers. In 1945, a Soviet military hospital operated here, and the newly formed national committee declared that the lake and all the related buildings owned by György Festetics (IV.), who stayed abroad, would become the property of the village, so the spa became state property.


The Hévíz State Medical Hospital was established in 1952, and the most modern Thermal Bath according to the conditions of the time was completed in the 1960s. By the 1970s, it was necessary to renovate its wooden structures. The buildings were so old that they decided to rebuild them completely. The new buildings were made of Austrian larch, as the resistance of larch to water is well known; see the example of Venice that stands on millions of larch piles. 1986 was a sad year, because both central buildings and medical units became prey to a fire. Reconstruction of the bath began in 1988, which still serves those who wish to recover today.

The interesting thing about the lake is that its average temperature is 33-35 degrees in summer, and it does not go below 20 degrees in winter either. The lake is kept warm by the already mentioned mist and its shelter-wood. It was not known for a long time what hot water source feeds the healing lake. It was suspected that the spring was in the northern third of the lake, but they could not dive into such depths. Divers called from Fiume (Rijeka) first dived into the deep in 1908, but due to the enormous heat they only reached 22 meters, from where samples were brought up for analysis. Large-scale research took place only much later, in 1972, when scuba divers found the source at a depth of 38.5 meters. Not only this came to light, but also that the thermal water of Hévíz has dual origin. Actually, the mixture of two different temperatures of water results the 40-degree water that comes to the surface, the beneficial effects of which we can still enjoy today.

Translated by Zita Aknai



Szántó Endre: Hévíz, Nereus Kiadói Bt., 1993.


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