Thermal Tourism in Turkey

The Past and Present of Thermal Tourism in Turkey

Spa tourism has a long history in Turkey. The benefits of the healing waters have been known in Anatolia since the Hittite era. The most ancient ruins of spas are from the Roman and Byzantine eras. Indeed, the Turkish bath ruins of Alexandria Troas (Kestanbol) and Hierapolis (Pamukkale) date back to the Roman era, while the Yalova-Kur^unlu bath belongs to the Byzantine era (Doganer 2001: 75). Thermal resources have also been used to relax and boost the morale of soldiers wearied by wars, and hydrotherapy earned significance as an efficient treatment method which beautified the skin while it healed ailments.

Thermal waters used as baths in Roman and Byzantine periods continued after the settlement of Turks in Anatolia. Turks turned these facilities into hot springs and thermal springs by expanding them. They took this culture with them even to places that they conquered (as in Hungary). Spas have become treatment and sports venues for the population coming from other cities. However, the real significance of thermal water was acknowledged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Due to the minerals contained in thermal water, it was recommended by doctors for the treatment of many ailments. Studies were carried out during this period to establish which thermal waters could be used to treat certain types of ailments. Many new spas were opened in Anatolia, and accommodation facilities were built in the form of basic constructions around the spa baths (Kervankiran and Kaya 2013). For example, Sultan Abdfilmecit commissioned the building of new baths and pavilions in Yalova spas to treat his mother. The roads currently used by the baths date back to that period. Furthermore, during the era of Sultan Abdfilhamit II, the water of this spa was analyzed for the first time. New baths, pavilions, and clubhouses were also built there.

During the first years of the Republic, these areas were distinguished in terms of significance and their operation was promoted. During the Republican era, at the initiative of Ataturk, the healing characteristics of water (balneotherapy) and mud therapy (peloidotherapy) were determined, and water analyses and hydrogeological studies were commissioned for the development of spas (Doganer 2001: 75). At the beginning of the 1930s, the spas in Yalova were equipped with modern facilities and the city was transformed into a city of spas.

Subsequently, in 1932, specialists from Europe were brought to study the spas in Afyon and establish modern facilities there. These works were completed in a short time, and the established facilities were transferred to the Red Crescent (Kizilay). In 1936, spa hotels ?elik Palas in Bursa and Otel Termal in Yalova were opened and doctors were hired to oversee the treatments at the spas and the application of physical therapy equipment became widespread (Atap and Upar 2012). In 1938, the “HydroClimatology Department” was opened within Istanbul Medical Faculty and the foundation for spa medicine was established (Doganer 2001: 75).

The hydrogeological studies carried out by the Mineral Research and Exploration General Directorate in the 1960s determined 615 resources in Turkey, and further studies were carried out for the major ones. These studies were the basis in the planning of thermalism by the Ministry of Tourism and Information. In fact, the planning works commissioned by the ministry for Gonen spa in 1973 were the first application in terms of modern spas in Turkey, and subsequently, this study was followed by the planning of other spas in Yalova, Terme, and Sicak ?ermik (Doganer 2001: 76; Serpen et al. 2009: 227).

In 1982, with the enactment of the Tourism Initiative Law, spas were included among listed tourism centers which accelerated investment activities and contributed to the start of building modern thermal facilities (Unal 2003: 117). Spa facilities were included in the tourism investment regulation published in 1991 and the regulation regarding 38 spa tourism and operation problems in Turkey. According to this regulation, a hydrogeology report approved by MTA (Mineral Research and Exploration General Directorate) and a physical-chemical analysis by the Ministry of Health are priorities required to determine the healing properties of spa resource waters at the source. Furthermore, this regulation regulates the planning of the utilization of thermal waters and the measures to be taken at spa treatment centers (Doganer 2001: 76; Selvi 2008: 292; Akbulut 2010).

Recent studies indicate that Turkey is among the richest countries in terms of geothermal resources. Turkey has 8 % of the world’s geothermal potential (Karabulut 2004). The geothermal heating power potential of Turkey is estimated at 31,500 MW. Based on these figures, Turkey is the seventh in the world and the first in Europe. Only 12.5 % (3298 MW) of this potential has become visible and 33 % of this potential is used directly or indirectly. Seventy-eight percent of the geothermal resources are located in Western Anatolia. Only 1306 MW of this potential was used directly in 2007. This geothermal potential revealed by the Mineral Research and Exploration Institute (MTA) is used for generating electricity, heating houses and greenhouses, thermal tourism, and other such related areas (Dagistan 2008). Thermal water in Turkey has a natural flow and a high concentration of minerals. Considering the thermal tourism (hot spring) usage, the geothermal energy capacity in Turkey is estimated at 402 MW (Mergen et al. 2006).

Thermal tourism in Turkey, in its renewed traditional tourism model form (Hohfeld and Dogan 1986), is similar to the one practiced in Hungary. Many facilities have been established around thermal water resources which, based on their temperature and on the quality of the spring waters, have been classified as “potable” (mineral springs), “spa, hot springs” (thermal springs), and “fermik” (hot springs).

However, until recently, thermal and mineral waters appealed mainly to the domestic tourism market. With the modernization of accommodation facilities and the improvement of service quality (medical, paramedical, gastronomic) and due to the increasing international demand for affordable medical services, Turkish spas started to gradually open to international tourists. Spas have also become places where both residents and tourists come to socialize. Food and beverages are consumed in baths, dances are danced, ballads are sung, and Turkish poems are recited. Essentially, baths are social venues where relatives, neighbors, and friends get together and enjoy themselves. A bath culture with characteristic features also known as “Turkish bath” has developed in thermal venues. In fact, there are numerous literary sources particularly involving the Ottoman era which specifically address bath culture. Spas have a major impact on the development of this culture. In the past, spa traditions held a major role in Turkish culture and albeit with a lesser role today, they still continue to exist.

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