I Photographed Abandoned Buildings In One Of The Oldest Spa Resorts In The World (24 Pics)
About 11 years ago, I came up with the idea of capturing forgotten locations. I was desperately looking for a hobby or something to spend my free time on, and I made a list of things that I was interested in. History, writing, creativity and traveling were among those things. One day, I was driving in Germany with a friend, and I was sharing some of my thoughts with him regarding this process of what to spend free time on and the things I’m interested in, and he suggested I visit an abandoned stone factory close to where we were driving. The day after, I went there with my camera to see what I’d encounter, and I absolutely loved it. I started doing research on the internet and soon found that there was a small community with other people who were interested in this sort of photography and work. That’s where it took a lift-off. I soon found more locations to visit, and since then I have never stopped exploring, photographing and writing.
A few years ago I traveled to Băile Herculane (or Herculane Baths) – a town situated in the valley near the Cerna river in Romania. It is surrounded by the most amazing mountains (Mehedinți mountains and the Cerna mountains). The town has a population of around 5,000 people and has a very long history. It is one of the oldest spa resorts in the world. Several archaeological discoveries show that the area has been inhabited since the Old Stone Age. Legend has it that a Roman hero and god named Hercules dropped by the village to bathe and rest. Multiple statues of Hercules have been discovered around town.
Emperor Franz Joseph in 1852 called Băile Herculane “the most beautiful resort on the continent.” Together with his wife Empress Elisabeth (Princess Sisi), they loved staying in the town. Empress Elisabeth even had a house in the center of the town. In current times, Băile Herculane is mostly known because of its (supposedly) natural healing hot springs with sulfur (my god, that stinks!), chlorine, sodium, magnesium, and other minerals. During the Communist rule, facilities were built for mass tourism, like 8-12 storied hotels.
All kinds of people visited the town, but it was most popular with employees and retired people, who would visit Băile Herculane to spend their state-allotted vacation vouchers hoping to improve their health. Nowadays, the town is also regularly visited by younger people.
At the end of the 20th century, a couple of privately owned hotels and pensions appeared. Unfortunately, some of the old buildings (Austria-Hungary era) are derelict and have fallen into decay. I’ve visited a couple of these abandoned places and photographed them. After my great trips to Georgia and Abkhazia, this area was a lovely surprise.
Herculane baths from above
Pool in Herculane baths
One of the abandoned houses I looked most forward to, and the main reason I visited Băile Herculane, is Băile Neptun (or Neptune Baths or Austrian Imperial Baths). Băile Neptun was built at the end of the 19th century (between 1883 and 1886). Architect Alpar Ignat designed the plans for the historical building. Băile Neptun has former sulfur and thermal baths with 32 individual cabins and two large pools built of red marble. The pools were getting their water from the Neptune I and Neptune IV springs. On the first floor, there used to be a gym. It is a huge building with a lot of rooms. However, one of the rooms stands out. The reception hall has amazing colors, details, and a ceramic fountain in the middle of the room. Luckily enough, this is still a quite well-preserved place to see (considering the circumstances).
Reception hall of Herculane baths
Private cabin of Emperor Franz Josef
In the resort, Roman origins are present throughout the building. For example, plaques dedicated to Hercules, Aesculap, and Hygeia (protective gods of this place) can be found.
Unfortunately, at the end of the 20th century, the building fell into decay. Authorities have been doing nothing to preserve or save the historic building. The only thing that might save this place is a group of young architects from the Herculane project. They are trying to save one of the most important buildings of Băile Herculane, the Herculane (or Neptune) Baths. A building full of history, magnificent architecture and, for me, beautiful decay and stories to capture.
Thus far, the legal situation is causing a lot of delays, and in the meantime, a large part of the roof of the buildings collapsed. This means that the weather will have an even greater impact on the process of decay in the building.
The building is in the hands of the City Hall and Valeriu Verbitchi. Valeriu also owns one-half of the land where the building is situated on. Next to that, there is another partial owner named Alexandru Gavrilescu, and they are in a legal dispute with each other. One doesn’t want the Herculane project to intervene in the building, and the other doesn’t want the Herculane project to intervene without the decision of the court. Because of this, the future isn’t looking very bright for Băile Herculane. In the meantime, the Herculane project will do its best to intervene where possible within the legal boundaries.
Spot the cat
Next to the stunning Băile Neptun, the city has a couple of other very interesting abandoned buildings. Among these are, for example, the Apollo Baths, a Casino, and Pavilion 6.
On the location of the Apollo Baths, a Hercules temple and several Roman baths were discovered. Halfway through the 18th century, the building was burned. Around 20 years later, they rebuilt it. Another 100 years later, the building was rebuilt again. Nowadays, the building is in heavy decay.
Casino bar entrance
Built in the late 19th century, this abandoned casino with its beautiful colors is a true joy to the eyes. This architectural jewel is built in a lovely baroque style. The room in this photo used to host roulette and poker games. Luckily enough, this room survived a big fire in the building around 60 years ago. Therefore, the paintings are mostly still intact. The outdoor hallways and the entrance to the bar are very stunning to see as well. In the picture above, I photographed the bar entrance. You can clearly see the heavy decay this room is in. However, the architectural details and the colors are mesmerizing.
At first, Pavilion 6 was a great hospice, built in the early 19th century and burned down in 1900. At the beginning of the 20th century, the building that is currently still standing there was built. The architects who designed the building took part in a competition. The building is one of the last to be built in the town, but also one of the most impressive ones. At the moment, they covered the exterior of the building with an immense sheet that has a print on it with the original exterior of the building. Since the building is undergoing restoration works, this print shows what it will look like once it’s finished.
More information about Băile Herculane can be found in my book “Oblivion“.
The house of Princess Sisi
Abandoned places fascinate me because of all the unanswered questions and the mystery they hold. There is beauty in things that are forgotten, and taking a closer look can be an incredible way to get to learn more about the world around us, and how things change with time as history unfolds. Today, abandoned places all over the world offer a unique glimpse into the past. A source of reflection, perhaps, as they prompt us to think about the future. If, for example, a church, house, or hospital, once an important haven in a community or family, can become a pile of ruins, what does that say about what we hold certain today? These are the traces of the past, and if we follow them, we can see where we all came from and perhaps where we’re going.
Marble basin Apollo baths
Long and green hallway
I have just returned from a couple of months that I spent in Italy, where I photographed over 100 abandoned churches for my CHIESA project. I wrote about the decline of the church in the country, which was a really interesting journey, and I have seen some stunning places. Next to that, I am working with my business partner Sven van der Wal on a project called Boys with Drones. We’re traveling the world to capture abandoned places with a drone, creating aerial videos and photographs. I am now also in the process of planning to spend 2 months on the island of Bali, to capture and write about the abandoned places on the island. That project will most likely take place in the fourth quarter of this year.
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