Bankya Mineral Bath is a Baroque-style architectural monument that needs to be restored, both inside and outside , in order to preserve the elements that have historical and architectural value , to be more specific -elements like floorings, wooden ornaments on room dividers, ornaments on walls and ceilings. At the same time the architect has to organize a new functional scheme ,which meets the requirements of the 21st century. In the past century the thermal bath had a function mainly of a hygienic bath, currently this can’t be the case anymore.
Usually they were built to be hygienic facilities and due to the fact they were supplied from mineral springs they could have healing effect as well. The bathhouses and the changing rooms within them were divided into men and women sections, because once they were functionally design for hygienic facilities, it was not possible to use them in a mixed way.
Thermal bath’s building in Bankya is in poor condition. My team and I prepared a conceptual design for a public procedure commissioned by the Municipality of Bankya, which necessitated a very thorough study of the current situation. The roof has collapsed in several places, due to this fact rainwater flows down the floors, there are broken windows with rusty old metal frames, so there is an urgent need immediate action to be taken so that further demolition will be stopped. All these interactions need serious financing. That is why a conceptual project was made, so a future investor can get an idea of the building’s potential and what it would cost if he decides to finance.
I am not so well acquainted with the Central mineral bath in Sofia. In Bankya, as I mentioned prior, we did a research, such as preliminary structural assessment, geodetic survey of the building and elevations’ survey. It turned out that there is a mixed type of construction, i.e. containing partly concrete slabs, partly joists and “Prussian arch” in the basement, there are partial collapses in the floor joists, wooden staircases located in both wings leading to the second floor are also in poor condition. I guess the other mineral bath is in similar condition, but I think more recent actions on its preservation have been taken. It is good for these buildings to be restored and socialized, ie to be given modern functions for using the full potential of their mineral water resources. All over Europe, for example Italy, Hungary, Romania, Austria, Germany, where there are such buildings, they’ve been restored and currently open for the public offering SPA and wellness service as well. The point is that we are again relying on significant financial resources, which could be partly ensured through European programs for financing and preserving of mineral water resources and for tourism development.
It is unique, as I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, designed in Baroque style by the german architect Carl Hocheder . During the realization phase leading construction manager was arch. Neno Neshev. The design process began in 1907, afterwards its realization lasted three years and was officially opened in 1911. At the time of its opening Mineral Bath Bankya with its built-up area of 1700 sq.m and a total area of 5,000 sq.m. was the largest and most modern public mineral bath on the Balkans . Typical for Baroque style details are to be found in the interior . Another interesting fact is the innovative solution for heating and ventilating systems of the building- the design included central heating and its own power plant in the basement. Remarkable are the two round pools, one in each compartment with marble railings such as balusters and brass spouts from which mineral water has flowed and filled the pools’ volume. This is where the scenes in “Bai Ganyo” movie took place. The building is designed with symmetrical layout with two side wings divided into male and female compartments. The layout of bath’s two wings includes rooms with individual bath tubes. The most luxurious among them was the “royal bath”-one used by the king, situated in the men’s ward and one for the queen located in the women’s ward. In the royal bathroom there are preserved sanitary ware like batteries made of brass and copper pipes. The individual booths in the locker rooms are separated from one another through wooden room dividers with rich decoration. It was an interesting setting for a movie showing that public sanitary baths were used not only for their intended purpose but also as places for social contacts, e.g. seats are situated outside in the foyers and in the galleries above them.
SPAs that are using mineral water are focused more on preventive procedures and recovery treatment, depending on the physical and chemical properties of the mineral water they are supplied with. Mineral baths have mostly a mixed function: balneological and spa. It can combined e.g. rehabilitation procedures with massages and water treatment. The idea is that they need to be renovated in a way that makes it possible to apply modern methods with modern equipment. In Bankya the pools will be fully preserved because they have historical value, we can add some modern settings like nozzles for underwater massage.The pools can be used for activities like water gymnastics. Bulgaria is country rich in mineral water springs, there are many baths built nearby. Our responsibility is to not let them turn into ruins.
I think that the function of a museum is incompatible with the function of a spa center. In my opinion, in case that the Mineral bath is really going to host a museum and a spa center, there is only one suitable scenario and it is if the museum exhibits interesting photos with historical facts from Old town Sofia , history and interesting data about the bath itself, taking us back to the last century and beyond. That’s how I understand it, the building itself as a story. Otherwise, the museum-spa function seems incompatible to me. If you go to a museum, you will hardly go to use the spa. A person with the attitude of visiting a spa center, goes to a spa center, it is unlikely for one to go inside to see the museum or after spa procedures to go out and enter the museum – there is no logic. Rather, a healthy eating establishment is more suitable , if different functions has to be combined – one goes hand in hand with the other. There is quite large area available and one could think of a combination like that.
Yes, we are talking about the public baths that are categorized as architectural monuments as well. The fact that there are so many buildings of that type in Bulgaria is nice. Those that are smaller could be expanded. Those that are not cultural or architectural monuments and yet they are very old and unusable could be destroyed and on their place something new could be built, because a reconstruction of an almost destroyed building is always more expensive than a brand new construction. That is the case only if it is not necessary to preserve the building, of course. There are always many compromises to be done in a reconstruction process.
It is good near all these mineral water springs, where that’s possible, such facilities to be built in order to use the full potential of the mineral water. It can also be combined with a medical spa center, which includes physiotherapy, rehabilitation, various treatments. Depending on where it is located and what the purpose of the waters is, various solutions can be given . To sum up it is always worth starting something like this.
There is one in Romania, in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Italy. In other countries there are old public baths’ buildings that have been reconstructed because it is good for developing the tourism sector . In our country we have priceless wealth, unfortunately we are not using it.