August is half gone, which means summer is coming to an end. But it’s not too late to indulge in summer fantasies! Fantasies of gorgeous, historic swimming pools, that is.
A brief history of the swimming pool: the earliest pool is believed to be the 39×23 ft sealant-lined brick pool at Mohenjo-Daro (Pakistan), which dates from the third millennium BC. Later civilizations, the Greeks and Romans in particular, continued the tradition and introduced heated swimming pools. Public pools became popular again in the 19th century in the U.S. and abroad. From there they became partly political—who (what social classes, races, and genders) could swim where, and when?
Without diving any deeper into the social history of pools (though there is much to be explored), let’s continue on to take a look at some stunning pools that will absolutely make you want to jump right in.
We’ll start off with a pool complex in one of my favorite cities, Berlin, Germany. The Stadtbad Neukölln (Municipal Pool of Neukölln) was designed by architect Reinhold Kiehl, modeled after ancient spas. It opened in 1914, and is still in use today.
Moving halfway around the world, the pools at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, are similarly inspired by the antique. There are two pools at the castle, the outdoor Neptune Pool and the indoor Roman Pool, both dating from the 1930s and designed by architect Julia Morgan.
Just up the road (ish) in San Francisco, California, are the ruins of the Sutro Baths. At the time of its opening in 1896, Sutro Baths was the largest indoor public bath complex with six seawater pools and one freshwater pool. It was demolished in the 1960s. You can see happy swimmers go down a water slide in this short video clip taken by Thomas Edison at the baths in 1897.
Or perhaps you’d rather visit a bath on the site of a former Roman bath, rather than one just inspired by the Romans? Then head over to the Roman Baths in aptly named Bath, England. The site has been used for bathing almost continuously since the Romans first erected a bathing complex. Now it houses a modern spa and pool, an 18th-century pump room, 19th-century baths, and a museum. You can do a “walkthrough” of the complex on the Roman Baths’ website.
If you’re craving something simpler but still historically significant, there’re always Cleveland Pools, also in Bath. Built in 1815, these Georgian pools were in use until the 1970s and recently received a grant of £5.4 million for restoration work. The outdoor pools were the largest in England at the time they were built, and are still some of the oldest in the country.
Before we go, let’s head over to Turkey for something slightly different. Not for Turkish baths, though. We’re going for more mineral springs and Greco-Roman pools in Pamukkale (formerly Hieropolis), southwestern Turkey. What’s probably most unique about the site are the terraced travertine hot springs—should you happen to be visiting when it’s chilly, you can still splash your feet or go swimming in one of the large pools! Bonus: the remains of Roman columns and other architectural features lie on the bottoms of some of the pools.
The terraces at Pamukkale. Photos: Hallie Borstel
I’m completely ready now to go enjoy some swimming in one of these pools. How about you?