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Terme Dobrna is the oldest working Slovenian thermal spa with a tradition over 600 years old.
A mild climate that does not know fogs or cold winds had attracted early on the first settlers. In prehistoric times, they erected a fortified settlement on the nearby hillock Gradišče, testimony of early settlement are also 500 Celtic coins found in archaeological excavations.
The findings also prove that Dobrna was well known by ancient Romans. It is likely that already then they started using the thermal waters of Dobrna. The thermal spring was known as well by first Slovenian settlers as they named the upper part of their settlement ‘Toplice’ meaning ‘Spa’. The lower part of the settlement they named ‘Dobrna’ after the ‘dob’ an oak tree characteristic to the widely surrounding area.
The Dobrna spa and thermal spring are first mentioned in written records in the year 1403. At that time, they became the property of Sigmund and Andrej Dobrnski.
1. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SPA
For the first time in 1582, an owner of the spa is mentioned in the archives as Franc Dobrnski, who later ceded the spa to two of his subjects. At the time, the spa was obviously gravely neglected, and in the year 1612, the provincial council consented to provide financial help for the building. One year later Hans Gačnik purchased Dobrna and later sold it to his brother Matija. With him, a new era began for the spa.
The Gačnik family
In 1624 Matija Gačnik erected the first health building and to commemorate this event he had a marble plaque, that still exists today, built into the wall above the swimming pool. With the accession of the Gačnik family who became the owners of the spa, began an era of prosperity for Dobrna. The Gačnik family later spent 3200 florins for the restoration of the spa and strived to increase their value and renown.
Janez Matija Gačnik was granted nobility by the emperor and given the title ‘von Schlangenburg’ that is reminiscent of snakes. From then on, the old Dobrna castle was referred to as ‘Schlangenburg’, meaning ‘Snake castle’ or ‘Snake town’. The Gačnik family remained owners of the spa until 1729.
Many owners followed, but by then the spa was renowned all around. In the year 1809, hundreds of soldiers wounded in the French-Austrian battles were treated there. In the 1810, and then again in 1811, Ludwig Bonaparte, the brother of the emperor Napoleon I convalesced there, and as repayment, paid for the levelling and smoothening of the rocky bottom of the swimming pool.
Count Ivan Hoyos
On the year 1848 the spa was purchased by the count Ivan Hoyos who radically tackled the restoration and construction works. He raised another wing with a beautiful new spa hall, further on a chapel, a swimming pool for visitors and the poor. He raised other buildings, and arranged the paths and resting places in the park. Nearby the enclosed spring, Hoyos had five individual baths constructed. In the year 1850, he erected another floor on the spa centre and increased the capacity from 49 to 79 guest rooms. He also tackled the former Novak family house and rebuilt it into a guest house. From the outbuilding of this house, he made the ‘Lawn house’, a ‘Wiesenhaus’.
Hoyos run the spa himself with the help of his wife. The most significant person at the spa was the spa doctor, in whose position Hoyos placed Dr. Gustav Kottowitz. In the year 1850, the spa doctor issued the first tourist guidebook on the spa. In it he describes the healing properties of the thermal water, discusses cases of extraordinary recoveries, and the benefits that can be enjoyed by the guests. Around the year 1855, Dr. Kottowitz built the Villa Kottowitz, today known as Villa Higiea.
In those times everything was prepared for the reception of esteemed guests, mostly including nobles, rich bourgeoisie, high civil military and ecclesiastic dignitaries. In the year 1851, the spa had 463 guests. In the year 1852 among the guests visiting where as well the civil governor of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia, ban Jelačić with his wife, and the bishop Anton Martin Slomšek.
Count Hoyos was very enterprising but also thoughtless; unfortunately, even he did not know the amount of debts he had incurred. Thus, his property went bankrupt, and the spa was purchased by the Styrian country states in 1858. Regardless of his personal failure, Count Ivan Hoyos is recognised as the original founder of the current Dobrna spa.
The Baron Franc Ksaverij Kajetan Dienersberg who took possession of the spa in 1814 is responsible for the new development of the spa. In the same year, he wrote excitedly to his friend in Graz: ‘Believe me, my dear friend, I have seen a lot of this world, yet this is the place I have dreamed about. This heavenly useful spa fills me with strength and thoughtful peace. Remain well, and I dare hope that you will visit me soon.’
Dienersberg tore down the old middle part of the Gačnik spa centre, built a new one, connected it to the side wings, and reorganised many things in the spa centre. Some time later in the year 1820 he arranged the chestnut alley, connecting the spa complex with the nearby Dobrna settlement. Thus all the conditions for the further prosperity of the spa were fulfilled. These were soon realised as the visits to the spa were soon rapidly growing.
The country spa administration continued with the administration based on that of the Count Hoyos. A new period of ascent began for the spa. In the year 1872, they built the Swiss court, known today as Hotel Park. On the former Novak home, the ‘House of Nobles’ was built, and today serves as the Dobrna spa administration building. The administration concluded several other works; they rearranged the right wing of the main building, the staircase and the restaurant, and they built new dressing rooms, twelve new separate baths covered in marble and directly connected to the main spring.
in the beginning of the 1860’s they rebuilt the cottage that once served as a hospital for injured soldiers as a laundry and a drying house, now a cinema. They built a new stable with an apartment for the gardener, a taproom, a joiner’s workshop, and a couple of modest apartments.
Around the year 1870, waterworks were installed from the corner. In the year 1899 a new thermal spring that they named ‘Clementine’s spring’ was found and enclosed in the immediate vicinity.
The most effective outer works were carried out in 1908: they built an enclosed porch, and renovated the spa swimming pool. In remembrance, they placed under the Gačnik plaque a new inscription that in translation read: ‘In the year 1908 the spa was rebuilt. God grant that it will serve for the welfare of our country and our beloved guests’.
The spa had in that time a high renown, important guests frequented it, among them the German writer Karl May who spent his whole wealth during his stay here. Guests would come from Graz and other places from German Styria, the most important, with which the administration then boasted was the archduke Rainer in 1905.
During World War I the spa became a military hospital, in 1919 it came under the administration of the Maribor authorities, and then in 1929 under the newly formed Drava province. In the time between the two wars, spa buildings were continually repaired and rebuilt. The life of patients residing in Dobrna at the time was described in the newspaper Slovenec (1st of July 1928): ‘We have no loud parties in Dobrna, but pleasant gatherings among friends are organised amidst the lovely premises of the spa. The army band plays twice a day, and theatre plays and concerts are performed in the large hall. The courts and sport objects offer opportunities for any kind of sport. Even hunters and anglers can enjoy the gifts of the Dobrna countryside. We are connected to the rest of the world by a regular bus service to the Celje train station.’
During the occupation, the spa was under army management, and after the war was in the hands of the Yugoslav national army, then returned to civil management.
After the last war, the spa activities branched out and became numerous. If in the year 1870, they first registered a 1000 guest, a century later in the year 1970 there were already 8392 guests. Due to the spa’s sudden growth, in the 1979 on the green between the settlement and the spa complex they built a new modern hotel with a thermal swimming pool, health centre, restaurant, cafe, and other purpose space. This caused a new boom and attracted even larger numbers of guests.
(from the books by Ivan Stopar, Dobrna, Motovun 1986; Dobrna, od škofa A.M.Slomška do Papeža Janeza Pavla II. v Sloveniji, Župnijski urad Dobrna 1996; Ivan Stopar, Zdravilišče Dobrna, Ministrstvo za kulturo 1995; Ivan Stopar, Dobrna, zvezek iz zbirke vodnikov kulturni in naravni spomeniki Slovenije, published by the Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for the protection of natural and cultural heritage in Ljubljana).
2. OLD RECORDS
Those who saw the once weak old men leaving the spa fortified, enlivened, so to say rejuvenated, in high spirits and thankful attitudes will certainly know to tactfully value the effects of the spring.
Dr. Wagner, state councillor of Middle Carniola and staff doctor reports: I have seen a 51 year old priest headed to the Krapinske Spa. His arms, legs and mouth trembling storngly, he could barely talk. After five minutes in the cold bath his limbs became so crooked he had to be carried out of the bath the first two days. On the fourth day he managed to walk a bit on his own, three weeks later he left the spa fully healed.
A 40-year old farmer was beaten unconscious on the ground. The right side of his body was half paralyzed and he had three holes in his head. After being treated by doctors for four weeks without success, he was brought to the spa. Here they bathed his wounds with indescribable pain relieving feelings 12 to 20 times a day with mineral water, during which they removed nine bone particles from his wounds. After seven weeks of treatment, he was discharged completely healed.
Private maids can cook breakfast and lunch at the appointed coffee fireplace for which the honourable guest must provide his own firewood. For this purpose portion of wood have been provided by the spa at a cost of nine crowns.
Noon lunch is only available as a ‘tables d’hotel’ (collective tables), for 40, 30, or 20 crowns. The first table lunches in the spa hall, the second in the ground floor salon. Meals served in rooms are priced the same as the ‘tables d’hotel’, not by portion but per person.
Private servant may only bathe in the outpatients swimming pool and pay half the swimming charge for swimming.
The music tax introduced last year due to the engagement of a music band from Karlovi var for the whole summer amounts to 45 crowns per person. Children under the age of 12, and servants are tax exempt.
The Omnibus running everyday at 3pm from Celje and at 8am from Dobrna costs, from Celje 40 crowns per person and from Dobrna to Celje 30 crowns per day. The bus also carries postal mail.
In the Spa pool or the gallery it is forbidden to smoke or move suddenly in the water, above all swimming, diving and jumping into water. This demands consideration from all spa guests towards their fellow sufferers.
Out of consideration for ladies it is forbidden to smoke in the spa hall were the piano, newspapers and the guestbook are available. The management requests out of general interest that the newspapers are not removed from the hall.
The spa guest should at all times take care of himself and under no circumstances throw himself into excess. He must regard all that is beneficial and safeguard against all that may cause harm especially, colds and wetting his feet.
Sitting about in rooms due to lengthy toilette or for the fear that they will lack attention, has for some time been one of the most contrary mistakes of the Dobrna ladies against the spa laws. Unfortunately, it can only be rectified with the greatest of efforts.
The same is valid for your diet. Overeating is an unallowable excess for every spa guest.
(From the spa guide by Dr. Kottowitz from the year 1850)