History of the society - Part I.


At the end of the 19th century, in 1882 when balneology came into the centre of interest, the Hungarian Royal Medical Society established a separate balneological committee of experts. In the same year a separated congress was held by the propriators of Hungarian springs and spas. The participants carried out detailed propositions in defence of medicinal waters with the assistance of  legal and technologican experts. Many details of those proposition was taken into consideration during the creation of the Water Act next year. In 1883 the first international spa society was established, namely the  „Verein der Kurorte und Mineralquellen interessenten Deutschlands, Österreich-Ungarns und der Schweiz”, that operated until WWI. Before that milestone only one national (but not international) spa society existed, the Balneologishe Gesellschaft, founded in 1878, located in Berlin. In 1889, the balneological committee of experts elected a new chairman, Vilmos Tauffer MD, who initiated the foundation of a new, scientific society, with regard to the development of the medical spas, in defence of medical waters, and to the more effective healing process. According to his idea, it should be open to all of the experts who specialized on medical spas, thus it should facilitate joined scientific work. The new society soon established under the name of „Balneological society of the Countries of the Hungarian Holy Crown”, and its statues were accepted by the Minister of Home Affaires on 26th  July 1891. The society (operated after WWI as National Balneological Society, and today as Hungarian Balneological Society for as much as 112 years) is the second oldest one of its kind after that formerly mentioned German society.


By 1920, due to the Trianon Peace Treaty (that followed WWI), the country lost more than two thirds of its territory, which was literally decreased from 325.000 square kilometres to 93.000. The majority of the internationally known and recognized spas (e.g. Pöstyén, Trencsény-teplic, Szliács, Bártfa, Szováta, Herkulesfürdő, Tusnád, Palics, Tarcsafürdő etc.) were cut off, and became located out of the newly drawn country borders. Having perceived the new situation the developement of Hévíz and Balatonfüred, and the spas of the capital came into focus. It was that time when the famous slogen „Budapest - Spa City” was born. The Budapest Spa City Society was founded in 1922, and as chairman the great-grandson of Palatine Joseph, archduke dr. Ferenc József was elected. He was not only an outstanding technological and legal expert, but also posessed important scientific and political relationships, thus fulfilled his tasks in an absolutely professional and active way. It was also him, who initiated the foundation of the National Tourism Council. The XVI/1921 Act regulated nationwidely the questions linked with the spa-case. Regarding their specially highlighted position, a separated ministerial decree was carried out for the territory of Budapest and Lake Balaton, however it was in a significant delay.


In 1929 the International Society of Medical Hidrology (ISMH) and the leading rheumatological experts of the continent held a joined conference in Budapest at the Medicinal Bath and Hotel Gellért, where Jan van Breemen MD, speaker of the University of Amsterdam announced the establishmnet of the International League of Associations for Rheumatology (ILAR), while Sándor Korányi MD was elected to be chairman of the ISMH.

The Central Committee of Medical and Spa Resorts of Budapest was founded in 1934, chaired by the prevailing Mayor of Budapest being responsible for the development of the capital’s spas, and so as for the medicinal tourism. For covering the operational costs apart from the direct (financial) support of the capital, a significant part of the income resulted from the bottling of the mineral and medical waters, as the taxes to be paid for the bottling was granted to the Committee. Out of the first year’s revenue reaching 450.000 pengo, some 140.000 was devoted to promotions. The Committee founded the Rheumatological and Spa Research Institute, led by Sándor Belák MD, director of the institute of Physiology at the Medical Faculty of the University Péter Pázmány. The director of the clinical rheumatological departments established at spas Gellért and Rudas was Lajos Bilkei Pap MD. Numerous medical training courses were organized and so as basic courses were available for masseurs and for the spa-staff in a high professional level. Development was unbroken and reached its peak point in 1937. This year was caracterised by an increased advertising activity of the Central Committee of Medical and Spa Resorts: during spring 46 journalists were invited from 10 different countries, who were offered to get in a closer contact with the medicinal spas of the capital. A bit later, in July, the International Association of Catholic Journalists held its yearly general assembly in Budapest and the participants visited the spas as well. These events resulted in several articles about Hungary and the spas of Budapest, published in 75 foreign daily newspapers. Apart from the articles, uncountable advertisments encouraged people to visit the spas of Budapest offering them experiences, healing effects, and the cultural sights of the capital as a supplementary choice. Promotions were extended to the domestic press as well, however, the rate of hungarian guests grew scarcely (6%), while that of the foreigners increased much more intensive (40%) in the year examined. The Central Committee of Medical and Spa Resorts established 32 sales offices abroad  (Vienna, Berlin, Helsinki, London, Paris, Zurich, Cairo, Algir etc.), and they kept regural and tight contacts with the leading travel agencies of almost all european countries. Even special "spa train" services operated between the foreign cities and Budapest. 1937 also saw several 'spa staff and medical training courses' among which the most important had to be mentioned, was the International Rheumatological Medical Training Course, where the most famous rheumatologists of the era held presentations and lectures, like Copeman (London), Guthrie (New York), and Kahlmeter (Stockholm). Participants arrived from 25 countries (excluding Hungary) from Estonia to Japan. The comittee's market research was deep and detailed, but concentrated mainly on the countries caracterised by liberal and unrestricted economy, thus its citizens could travel without any restrictions, and spent more (UK, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland). Beside they did not ignore the other countries. with regard to the development of the spa tourism, they initiated the cancellation of the obligatory visa system, which came into existence concerning the relationship with Finland, Norway, The Netherlands, and the USA. In addition to the promotion, they regurarly organised lectures, and films to the public and to the experts in several european countries. Apart from the uncountable brochures, advertisments and placards, a famous film bearing the name  "Budapest - Spa City" was also translated to other languages. Unfortunately not a single copy of that film could survive WWII – at least according to our present records. From a scientific point of view the high point of that year was the International Spa Congress (held between 7-14 October) which was attended by 36 countries' 340 delegates and several international organisations such as the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The Congress saw the foundation of the International Association of Medical Spas, Climatology and Thalassotherapy, that was the legal predecessor of the FEMTEC (Fédération Mondiale du Thermalisme et du Climatisme), that had chosen Budapest as its permanent head office. Professor Heinrich Vogt's main arguments - quoted often by many - were the followings :"not any other city could have more rights to posess this title, than Budapest; the city that was lavishly granted by nature medical waters with excellent efficiency accompanied with incomparable natural beauties. Beside, taking into consideration its highly qualified medical level, Budapest is undoubtedly predestined for becoming the centre of the spas international affaires..." Ferenc József MD was elected as chairman and Zoltán Szviezsényi MD as secretary-general. The association consisted of three committees: medical, technical, economical. Today, the FEMTEC has a fourth committee having the social affaires among its main duties and its chairman is always Hungarian for twenty years now. The congress participants not only had the possibility to visit the spas of Budapest, and the Rheumatological and Spa Research Institute, but also made excursions to Balatonfüred and Lillafüred - that was declared to be a climathological health resort two years before. Many articles reported about the congress, but unfortunately the archive news had not survived. In 1937 four Hungarian physicians were granted scholarship by the committee for six months, that also welcomed four foreigners in Budapest.

The efforts were not useless. Just as a piece of proof: in 1937 the five spa hotel in Budapest recorded 382.398 guest nights, which gave 42% of the total guest nights (910.015) spent in commercial accomodations. What is more, in Budapest two thirds of the total guest nights resulted from bookings made by foreigners. The prosperous development continued in 1938, but during the next year, due to the worrying omens of the forthcoming war, serious decreasement had to be noticed, and after 1 September only domestic guests visited the Hungarian spas continously reducing in number. Nevertheless, until the first air raids had reached Budapest, its spas welcomed significant number of guests.