Băile Herculane (or Herculane Baths) is 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 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 mostly popular with employees and retired people, who would visit Băile Herculane to spend their state-allotted vacation vouchers, while 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 older buildings (Austria-Hungary era) are derelict and have fallen into decay. I’ve visited a couple of these buildings and photographed them earlier this year. After my great trips to Georgia and Abkhazia, this area was a lovely surprise.
One of the buildings I looked most forward to, and is the main reason I’ve visited Băile Herculane, is Băile Neptun (or Neptune Baths or Austrian Imperial Baths). Băile Neptun has been built at the end of the 19th century (between 1883 and 1886). Architect Alpar Ignat designed the plans for the building. Băile Neptun has former sulfur and thermal baths with 32 individual cabins and 2 large pools built of red marble. The pools were getting their water from the Neptune I and Neptune IV springs. On the first floor 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 quite well preserved (considering the circumstances).
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‘. Thus far, the legal situation is causing a lot of delay 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 on 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 partly 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 their best to intervene where possible within the legal boundaries.
More photos of Băile Neptun can be found below:
Other Abandoned Buildings
Next to the stunning Băile Neptun, the city has a couple 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.
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 the 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 below, 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. In 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.
I would like to thank Herculane Project for accompanying me on this great visit to Băile Herculane, and I wish them all the best with their project. If you would like to donate to the project to preserve the buildings in Băile Herculane, go to their website and please contact them.