Bath is aiming to become the only double-listed World Heritage Site in the UK. The nomination for the new listing, which is being submitted to Unesco at the end of January, is seeking recognition of Bath’s status as one of the leading historic spa towns in Europe.
Bath’s existing World Heritage Site inscription, which has been in place since 1987, is due to a number of diverse reasons: its hot springs, the Roman remains, the neoclassical architecture, innovative town planning and social life that flourished in the 18th century, and the city’s green setting. Unusually, the listing covers the entire city – something even many Bathonians don’t realise.
The proposed new inscription overlaps several of these aspects, but is more specific. Bath has joined forces with 10 other European spa towns to apply for World Heritage Site status as a single listing called Great Spas of Europe. The other towns are Spa in Belgium, Vichy in France, Baden-Baden, Bad Ems and Bad Kissingen in Germany, Baden bei Wien in Austria, Montecatini Terme in Italy, and Karlovy Vary, Františkovy Lázně and Mariánské Lázně in the Czech Republic.
The pitch being made for inclusion on the Unesco list is that the towns were at the forefront of developing the use of their natural spring and mineral waters for medicinal purposes from the 1700s to early 1900s, when they were turned into beautiful and fashionable resorts. They all have retained distinctive spa-related buildings. In Bath, several buildings at Thermae Bath Spa are from the Georgian period, as is the grandiose Pump Room.
There are a few other so-called “transnational serial” World Heritage Site inscriptions – that is, a single listing covering locations in different countries. For example, one listing applies to 17 Le Corbusier buildings spread over seven countries, and another to prehistoric pile dwellings (stilt houses) dotted around the Alps.
“What makes the Great Spas of Europe transnational proposition ground-breaking is that it covers urban settlements across multiple countries,” says Tony Crouch, the City of Bath’s World Heritage Manager. “In that respect, the application has been a massive challenge – it has taken at least eight years to prepare. But I am very confident it will be successful. Unesco is all about promoting peace and harmony through international cooperation, so it generally looks favourably on these kinds of cross-border projects.”
“Unesco is such a well-known and respected international brand that to get the second World Heritage Site listing would be a massive boost for Bath’s tourism, especially for increasing awareness of its wellness offerings,” he added. “And for Bath it would be like having two Michelin stars, not just one.”
The result of the Great Spas of Europe Unesco application should come through around the middle of next year. If all goes well, that would be perfect timing for Bath. The city currently lacks anywhere that provides a general explanation of its historical and cultural significance, and the whys and wherefores of its World Heritage Site status. That is set to change in the summer of 2020 with the opening of a new, free-access World Heritage Centre, in Victorian laundry buildings by the rear of the Roman Baths.