Ancient Baths Are Pretty, But Their Benefits Are Probably Bogus

Photo: Olaf Protze/LightRocket/Getty Images.
Sacred baths, often built over natural hot springs, can be found around the world and boast all sorts of physical and spiritual benefits. But is it worth adding these sites to your travel itinerary? Maybe. Whether you're planning to visit Hungarian springs or ancient Roman baths in the U.K., there a few things to know before you take a dip.
The thermal springs of Budapest, which have been open to the public for centuries, are still very popular to this day: Thanks to their mineral content, they've become quite the destination for wellness tourism — and Hungarian insurance companies even cover them as a healing treatment. A quick soak is said to ease muscle pain, joint damage, and skin conditions.
Sadly, a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology stated that it's still unclear whether mineral baths can actually improve your health. Beyond that, another study even suggested that some of Budapest's underground baths are poorly ventilated and may, at times, have higher concentrations of radon (a radioactive gas that, in high doses, can increase your risk for lung cancer). Luckily, most spas were found to have safe levels of radon. Still, maybe don't venture off the beaten path when the time comes to pick a bath to visit.
Meanwhile, the baths built by ancient Romans in the aptly named town of Bath, England, claim healing properties of a much more spiritual sort. They were founded in the first century CE to pay tribute to the goddess Sulis Minerva, who was said to have healing powers. Offerings made to the goddess are still on display at the springs. They often include curses people wrote to Minerva, begging her to take revenge on those who wronged them.
Unfortunately, the baths themselves — boasting genuine (and actually ancient) Roman lead pipes — are off-limits to the public. You can, however, sample the mineral water from the spring if you wish. (But be warned: Just about everyone says this stuff tastes awful despite its supposed mystical properties.)
Of course, we'd never want to cramp your traveling style. But unless you feel deeply drawn to the baths' locations for their historical value or architectural beauty (or have a curse to send to Minerva), you can probably reap the same restorative benefits from a spiritual bath at home.

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