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The West Bohemian Spa Triangle

Date of Submission: 25/06/2008
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Institute for the Protection and Conservation of Cultural Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Karlovy Vary Region
Ref.: 5378
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Location of the approximate geographic centre of each of the three towns:

Karlovy Vary: N50 13 20.39 – E12 53 06.44

Františkovy Lázně: N50 07 11.34 – E12 21 06.08

Mariánské Lázně: N49 58 40.21 – E12 42 12.80

The three spa towns in West Bohemia – Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně and Františkovy Lázně – are known as the West Bohemian Spa Triangle.

Karlovy Vary is the largest spa town in the Czech Republic, with numerous mineral water springs. It has existed as a spa resort since the Middle Ages and was named after Emperor Charles (Karel) IV. Its role as a spa resort has §prevailed throughout its history. In this respect it has no match in the territory of the Czech Republic. The spa part of the town is picturesquely set along the deep valley of the Teplá River, surrounded by wooded slopes.

The town owes its present appearance mainly to the construction boom in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Adjacent to the compact area of the spa zone, there are residential areas with lofty villas. Downtown parks, together with the forest-parks on the town’s fringe give a touch of nature to the town’s environment. There are a number of lookout towers and summer houses and a network of walk routes in the parks and forests. As to style and atmosphere, Karlovy Vary is a typical cosmopolitan spa resort. In town planning terms, the historical part of the spa town has remained almost intact and the town has preserved its outstanding heritage value.

Mariánské Lázně is, in terms of area, one of the largest spa complexes in the Czech Republic.

This spa town does not have a long history. It was established in the period of Classicism, early in the 19th century. Its creators changed an inhospitable valley into a charming park town with Classicist and Empire houses, gazebos, garden houses and colonnades.

The focus of the town is in the central park with the Main Colonnade where the wooded valley widens. The spa and residential houses form a ring around the park, spread over the slopes and extend downstream along the valley.

The Classicist spa buildings prevail in the architectural picture of the town (pavilions over the springs and part of the residential area). Like in Karlovy Vary, spa and residential buildings and villas built in the 19th and early 20th centuries predominate in Mariánské Lázně. They represent a wide range of architectural expressions or historism and Art Nouveau. Curing houses and spa hotels as well as the buildings over the springs and the colonnades (generally the most characteristic spa buildings in this town) have all been well preserved. As to the nature of the buildings, Mariánské Lázně is a typical European buildings complex of cosmopolitan nature. The well-preserved urban structure makes Mariánské Lázně one of the exceptionaly intact heritage ensembles.

Františkovy Lázně represents one of the most important spa complexes in the Czech Republic both in terms of size and in terms of the quality of the preserved buildings.

From the heritage point of view, Františkovy Lázně boasts the most intact ensemble of spa buildings in the West Bohemian Spa Triangle. 

Františkovy Lázně was officially founded in 1793 and the place was named after Emperor Franz (František) III. However, the local healing springs were already well-known in the Middle Ages. Although built for the most part in the period of Classicism (like Mariánské Lázně), Františkovy Lázně has an entirely different urban composition. The core of the spa town has an orthogonal plan view with a network of parallel streets, densely lined with Classicist, Empire and Historicist buildings. From the very beginning, construction efforts in the spa town have respected the idea of architectural unity. This urban unit is surrounded by a large park with the individual spa buildings (Classicist for the most part) over the springs. More recent parts of the town, consisting of well-designed historicist spa houses surround the park. The complex includes all types of buildings a spa resort of pan-European importance needs: hotels and guest houses, pavilions over the springs, the colonnade, large spa buildings, a church, theatre, small structural objects and sculptures.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The West Bohemian Spa Triangle includes the largest spa centres in the Czech Republic, which belong, in terms of architectural and functional type, to the group of large West- and Central-European cosmopolitan spas. It is a remarkable feature of the West Bohemian Spa Triangle that all the three spa towns are situated in a relatively small area. Each of them represents an outstanding architectural ensemble and each represents a specific type of town planning solution, different from the other two:

Karlovy Vary is a town that developed along a river in a dramatic valley landscape.

Mariánské Lázně is an urban architectural ensemble based on the concept of a central landscaped park surrounded by built-up areas.

Františkovy Lázně, on the other hand, is a compact ensemble of urban nature with an orthogonal plan pattern, surrounded by a landscaped park with pavilions over the springs.

It is also in architectural terms that the West Bohemian Spa Triangle represents a diversity of outstanding works of architecture as well as ordinary period buildings of all architectural styles of the 18th to 20th centuries. In this respect, the West Bohemian Spa Triangle is an exceptionally preserved example of “unity in diversity” (Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázně) and “diversity in unity” (Františkovy Lázně). The Spa Triangle also has an outstanding value balneologically: there are numerous healing springs in all the three spa towns and a number of other natural balneological resources. The springs are highlighted by architecturally interesting pavilions, which are harmoniously set in the greenery of the spa parks.

Thanks to the position of the three towns as prestigious European spa centres, the West Bohemian Spa Triangle also has a great cultural and historical value. Many outstanding artists stayed or were treated in these spas, and so did many famous political figures. The spa clientele have, and continue to, come to these spas from all parts of the world. Temples of different religions have been built for them. Besides Catholic churches, there are Evangelic, Anglican and Orthodox churches, as well as Muslim chapels in some of the spa buildings. There were of course also Jewish synagogues, which, however, did not survive the period of Nazi terror. The diversity of religions reflects the diversity of nationalities represented in the community of spa guests. Hence, the West Bohemian Spa Triangle is also outstanding in terms the interaction and co-existence of different confessions and national communities.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The towns of the West Bohemian Spa Triangle exhibit an extraordinary integrity and authenticity with which they have been preserved, both in terms of town planning and architecture and in terms of their spa functions. Thanks to the fact that construction efforts declined in the second half of the 20th century, all the three spa towns have preserved their historically developed structure almost intact.

They represent authentic entities, very integral and compact in terms of value, and they have preserved their appearance it had at the end of their traditional development (before World War II). The integrity of Karlovy Vary has in the past been slightly affected by only minor interventions (several houses have been demolished and some new houses have been built), but this has no significant impact on the appearance of the spa area as a whole. As to Mariánské Lázně, the southern part of the square was torn down, but the basic urban structure of the town remained generally unaffected: what only happened was that the central park area was extended. The sporadic new houses have been sensitively incorporated in the over-all urban composition. The architectural appearance of all the three towns of the West Bohemian Spa Triangle is noted for an exceptional integrity: a compact development area of authentic buildings and structures of an outstanding or high artistic quality absolutely predominates in each of those towns. All the buildings have preserved their authentic exteriors.

Comparison with other similar properties

On the national scale, Luhačovice in southeast Moravia is the only site that can compare to the spa towns of the West Bohemian Spa Triangle. However, the architectural style in which Luhačovice was built is entirely different: the dominant buildings there belong to the “national” style (those designed by Dušan Jurkovič) and to the modern inter-war architecture. None of the remaining spa resorts in the Czech Republic can match the spa towns of the West Bohemian Spa Triangle in terms of size, value and importance.

On the European scale, the three spa towns in West Bohemia compare favourably with the most important spa centres. Comparison is only relevant with the larger spa complexes built or rebuilt in the same period, i.e. between the end of the 18th century up to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In Italy, such spas include Bagni di Lucca, Abano Terme, San Remo, Rimini, Montecatini Terme; in France Aix-en Provance, Aix-le-Bains, Vichy, évian-les-Bains, Nice, Cannes; in Belgium Spa and Ostende; in the UK Bath, Buxton, Leamington Spa, Droitwich, Harrogate, Llandrindod Wells, Scarborough, Brighton; in Germany Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden, Aachen, Bad Homburg, Bad Ems, Wildbad, Nauheim. Spas in other European countries do not reach the importance of the abovementioned centres. The comparisons will be detailed in the definitive nomination documentation.

The West Bohemian Spa Triangle is unique due to the fact that each of the three spa towns has a different urban structure although the area in which all the towns are located is small, and that each of them has an exceptional concentration of architectural values with a wide spectrum of functions. What is unique is the level of integrity of the preserved historic sites with no significant recent building interventions.