From Mineral Springs to Royal Spas
According to the historical sources, the Serbian rulers in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century were pleased to visit the local spas and obviously enjoyed them. Although rich traders and then gentlemen with the education gained in the largest European capitals and guests of the best spas and prestigious places in the West – the rulers from the Royal Families Karadjordjevic and Obrenovic always returned to the mineral spa springs in Serbia with pleasure and full confidence. And they did not only have rest and cured themselves. They invested in the spas – from both their own and state treasury. They had spa bathrooms, fountains and drinking fountains built in them, but also luxurious villas, summer residences, and castles of such aesthetic and architectural value, that these facilities remained up to date their recognizable symbols and a material proof, classifying them into the group of the privileged – Royal Spas.
Depending upon the social and historical circumstances, the rulers of the Principality and then Kingdom of Serbia used the hot waters of Brestovacka, Ribarska and Sokobanja Spa, were cured in Vranjska and Koviljaca Spa, refreshed by the cold springs of Vrnjacka, Niska and Bukovicka Spa. Their visits made these places recognizable and desirable.
The rulers were followed by respected traders and built in the Spas by their own capital luxurious villas and summer residences, carefully choosing the best and most attractive locations. Party leaders, politicians, famous actors and writers were coming, as well. Cricket and tennis were played in the Spas, concerts and noble dances were enjoyed, acquaintances and businessmen met each other. Parks with flower beds set up in French or English style, drinking and other fountains – provided the Spas with nobleness and elegance. However, the Spas were also at that time visited, first of all, for hot and cold, mineral or sulphuric, but primarily curing water. According to the Spa physicians’ instructions, these waters cured or alleviated gout, the lungs or stomach problems, the gynecological and many other diseases. They strengthened bodies of the healthy ones, refreshed them and elevated their mood. Thus, no wonder that also the Serbian rulers and their family members were looking for salvation in such salutary water (Salus Per Aqua) of our Spas.
At present, guests may enjoy the same mineral waters in the way the Serbian Princes and Kings did. One should just choose between the King Petar’s and Queen Draga’s bathtub, drink healthy, potable water from the Bukovicka spring, like Prince Milos did, or leave the charms of the hot and aromatic bath to himself, like he did.
Two Royal Families
The way from mineral springs spread around Serbia to the Royal Spas was longer than a century. They grew up and developed along with the young Serbian state, which was arising at the beginning of the 19th century. Under a terrific Ottoman repression, Serbian people rose for an uprising, first on the Visitation of the Virgin day, in 1804 and chose their leader, Djordje Petrovic – Karadjordje. When the Ottoman force overwhelmed again and the Leader left the country, the Serbs rose for the second time, on the Palm Sunday in 1815, and among many heroes, Milos Obrenovic forced himself as the leader. Thus, two ruling families were initiated, who will then create the Serbian history for a century and a half. They confronted each other, replaced each other and were irreconcilable opponents, but they never destroyed what the other ones had built. Thus, it is not by chance that the recent history of Serbia and the one of the two Ruling Families, as well as the history of the Serbian Spa development were going on collaterally.
After the success at the battle field, Milos was negotiating with the Turkish Pasha for a long time and patiently and got many concessions. With the liberation of the Serbian regions (six eastern and southern ones), in 1833, a Slovak, Dr. Karlo Pacek, was first interested in the mineral waters in the Principality of Serbia. He procured from Prince Milos the permission to send the waters of certain Serbian Spas to Vienna, for their first scientific testing, already in the following year. As soon as their curability was confirmed, Dr. Pacek created the first indications for their application.
Upon Milos’s demand, Baron Siegmund Herder, the Head of the Saxon Mines, engaged in Serbia by the Borski Mine, analyzed in 1835 on the spot Brestovacka and later on also other Spa waters. Confirming their curability, Herder suggested a bathroom construction for people curing and recovery. It was the beginning of the Spa development in Serbia and some of them would in a few decades become prestigious sanatoriums and places for the noble class gathering.
The First Spa Castle
Prince Milos led both the state and his own affairs, using any opportunity to enjoy some of the Spas. He most often visited Brestovacka and Sokobanja Spa for the bath, but he would preferably drink a lot of Bukovicka ‘mineral water’. Princess Ljubica, with the young Princes Milan and Mihailo, was also a dear guest in many Spas. It was like this, all the time until Milos left Serbia, under pressure, due to his autocracy, in 1839.
After a brief reign of Prince Mihailo Obrenovic, the national leader showed the Prince honor to Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, the glorious Leader’s son and, as it was showed later on, also a great fun of the Serbian Spas. The Prince took a lot from the state treasury for their decoration, especially Ribarska and Sokobanja Spa, whereas in the Brestovacka one, he had a castle built, actually a summer residence, where he received also state visitors, in accordance with the strictly followed Royal Court ceremonial. During his reign, Erich von Lindenmayer, Head of Medical Corps of the Principality of Serbia, determined detailed indications and counter-indications in mineral water curing, in 1856. A more studious research of the local mineral springs was started in 1860, when a state commission was founded for this purpose.
The Return of the Obrenovics
In the meantime, the expelled Milos returned to the Throne after 19 years and first went to Sokobanja Spa, since he immensely longed for its springs in his exile. Just in this Spa, later on, he proclaimed the rules for the spa organization. He then went to his region, to the Spa under Bukulja, to drink once more the cold water from the ‘mineral water’ spring, to have the St. Archangel’s Church built, and the town, which was united with the Spa later on, was called Arandjelovac (Archangel’s Town), according to his wish.
During his first reign, Prince Milos had a residence built for him in Brestovacka and Sokobanja Spa and in 1860, he started a great building by the spring in Bukovicka Spa, the future Old Edifice, which will be built after him for a long time. It was finished in the 19th century, expanded in the 20th one and quite certainly – there will be works on it also in the 21st century.
After taking the reign by Prince Mihailo, a modern ruler with the European spirit, in the autumn 1860, and then his successors, King Milan and King Aleksandar Obrenovic, the relation of the rulers to the Serbian Spas changed as much as they preferred going to chic European spas, looking for much more comfort than the offered one by the Serbian Spas at the very beginning of their development.
However, it was much invested into their arrangement from the state treasury. Prince Mihailo spent admittedly his childhood in the Serbian Spas with his mother, Princess Ljubica. He spent the last years of his life with pleasure in Bukovicka Spa, watching the construction of not meant to be his summer residence, the future Old Edifice.
Milan and Aleksandar
Although Milan was much criticized for his wastefulness, intrigues and the foreign affairs policy, his reign was, however, marked by important events – Serbia’s independence was recognized and after Milan’s crowning (in 1882), it was proclaimed a Kingdom. This period will be remembered also by disputes between the Royal couple, but also unforgettable dances in the imposing Old Edifice in Bukovicka Spa. King Milan and Aleksandar were often guests in Nis and therefore also in Niska Spa, and after Aleksandar’s wedding with Draga Masin, the Royal couple had ‘their’ bench for a break. For health reasons, Queen Draga was also a guest of Ribarska Spa.
During Milan’s reign, many laws, regulations and instructions related to the Spa organization and arrangement in Serbia were proclaimed. In March 1881, the Law on the Arrangement of the Medical Profession and National Health Care was proclaimed. For the first time in the country’s history, the spa position was legally regulated, by just one article – 29, but enough to form the relations in such an important field of national living legally. The Spa Cleanness Order was proclaimed and it is still valid! Anyway, since the liberation, in 1833, medical profession in Serbia was arranged only by Instructions, Orders and Notices and since 1879, also by a completely failed Medical Profession Law.
The Leader’s Descendants
The twentieth century in Serbia started by the return of the Karadjordjevic Dynasty. After the tragic end of Aleksandar and Draga, in 1903, in accordance with the wishes of the army and the Assembly, the young Prince Petar I took the ruling throne of Serbia and soon became the favorite guest of Serbian Spas and a great donor.
With the accelerated economic and financial recovery of the country, the Spas also experienced an unprecedented prosperity, especially those under concession. The King initiated, both by his own money and state treasury funds, the construction and reconstruction of the Spas and cured in many of them his chronic and persisting gout. In Brestovacka Spa, he had a castle built, the present Spa Dispensary, initiated the bathroom construction in Koviljaca and a hotel construction in Ribarska Spa. In all of them, as well as in Vranjska Spa, he was cured persistently and for a long time and visited Vrnjci twice.
After the Balkan Wars, in June 1914, Serbia got the Law on Spas, Mineral and Hot Waters, but already on June 28, the World War I broke out. Thus, its application started only in 1918, after the country’s liberation.
The Regent and future King, Aleksandar I Karadjordjevic was a regular guest of Niska Spa and was cured by the water from the School Drinking Fountain and he also liked those from the springs in Vrnjacka Spa, whereas in Koviljaca, he had the Kur Salon (Cure Parlor) built, a pearl among the Spa buildings. Just in this Parlor, the young King Petar II Karadjordjevic stayed for a while leaving the country, in 1941. This was the end of the beautiful and long story of the Spas, where the guests were the rulers of the two Serbian Royal Families. The spirit and elitism they left behind – may always be a good start for their new rise.