The Pearl of Transylvania, Tusnádfürdő

Tusnádfürdő is a famous climatic thermal bath, yet many people know it because of the Bálványos Summer Free University, which has been held here since 1997. The bath was established in the middle of the 1800s, it was named the Pearl of Transylvania at the beginning of its flourishing, in the 1860s. Miraculous healings are associated with its name; the best known and most characteristic of which is the story of a shepherd boy grazing animals. Legend has it that a shepherd boy looking for his cattle wandering the marsh, was wading through the area and found that the sulphuric mud had a beneficial effect on his ulcerated feet. As usual, the beneficial effects of the springs that burst here were first enjoyed only by the locals, but by the turn of the century, Tusnádfürdő became a real thriving spa. In our latest article, its bathing culture comes to life.


The Tusnádfürdő was simply called Alszeg by the Szeklers of Csík. It began to become more widely known from the middle of the 19th century, although the settlement, founded in 1842, was still far from the shape of the spa that attracted many people. The marshy, bushy place at that time was mostly visited by the locals. In 1845, Lajos Élthes, born in Tusnád, leased the “bath” for ninety-nine years and formed a joint-stock company with six members. In a few years, the number of shareholders increased significantly; and due to their investment, the settlement started to develop, and several cottages and inns were built for spa guests. However, the fate of the increasingly visited spa was sealed by the battles of 1848-49, and most of its buildings burned to ashes.

Fortunately, the bath was not abandoned for long. Franz Joseph of Austria spent a day in the settlement on a country tour in 1852, which provided a very sad sight for obvious reasons. At the same time, the Emperor liked the place in the Strait of river Olt, its ozone-rich air and the multitude of its springs so much that he ordered the rebuilding of the settlement as soon as possible. During the reconstruction, mainly Swiss-style cottages were built in the area below the Alvég cliff, which was then referred to as Switzerland by the locals.

2015_48026_AdfBM_e.jpg1866 was a significant year in the history of the bath, because it was then that Count Benedek Mikes became president of the aforementioned joint stock company, and sent samples of the spring water to chemist Gustav H. Dietrich in Zurich at his own expense. Most of the water in the site is alkaline, saline and simple iron spring water. Interestingly, despite their proximity to each other, the erupting watercourses showed significant differences in composition and temperature. There are eight streamlets in the settlement, four of which were used for bathing and four for drinking. The ninth spring, the Primary Spring or Main Spring, bursts slightly southwest of the others, not far from the right bank of Komlósárok. At that time, it was considered one of the highest-yielding springs. Tusnád mineral water was bottled from this stream almost until the turn of the 20th century. Until the turn of the century, it was a serious rival to the medicinal water of Borszék, but later it was exhausted due to the wrong catchment.


What problems did the waters cure here? The various descriptive texts recommended the bath for the treatment of respiratory and circulatory complaints, gouty arthritis, anaemia and female ailments. In addition to the drinking cure, patients could expect to recover in the water of three baths (the Stefania Bath, the Rezső Bath and the Gyógycsarnok (medicinal hall) or Treatment Centre). During the Monarchy, the springs were usually named after members of the ruling family. So was it here, the Rezső Bath was named after the heir to the throne Rudolf, and the Stefania Bath was named after his wife.

In the thriving settlement, a 23-degree hot bath and a covered promenade were built, as not only bathing but also exercise was a very important part of the cure, and walking was a gentle but important activity for those wishing to recover. In addition, the highway between Csíkszereda and Sepsiszentgyörgy was built in 1870-72, favouring guests from further afield. According to an account, in 1875 the bath had nine heated tubs, five pool- and two shower-baths. Besides these, there was hydrotherapy and an inhaler machine, which was applied by bath doctor Gyula Lengyel as of the bathing season of 1879. By 1890, the Stefánia Water Spa was completed; 4 pools, 4 cold salon baths and 14 porcelain tubs were accessible for guests. This health resort operated until 1975.


Between 1882 and 1893, the iconic Lake Csukás was created in the backwater of the Olt, which was used by bath guests primarily for boating in summer and for skating in winter. World War I swept all these away; the only major investment was the clean-up of the lake, on the shores of which Rudolf Arohnson established a beach and entertainment centre afterwards.

In 1935, Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tuşnad) was separated from the village of Tusnád and became a separate settlement.


Due to the events of World War II, the development of the settlement came to a halt. In 1948, the cottages became state property and began to decay gradually. Under socialism, Tusnádfürdő was no longer able to handle the same level of tourist traffic as before. Although in 1968, the village was upgraded to city rank and significant public investment began in the spa, the image of the town was completely transformed. Three hotels and children's camps were established here, making it the most important resort for state unions. In the 1980s, many cottages became privately owned again, but the owners could not afford to renovate them, so the buildings continued to decay slowly.

There were many developments in the settlement in the 2000s and we can find positive examples for renovations as well. The Anna House (former Zacharias Cottage) became home to the St. Francis of Deva Foundation, led by the Franciscan monk Csaba Böjte. The name of their house in Tusnádfürdő is Saint Ladislaus Child Protection Centre.

Translated by Zita Aknai


Erdélyi Évszázadok - A kolozsvári Magyar Történeti Intézet Évkönyve: Fürdőélet Erdélyben, Egyetemi Műhely Kiadó, 2016.




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