The Via Francigena crosses 17 regions and 612 municipalities in 5 countries and mostly traverses rural areas and small communities. This summer EAVF – European Association of the Via Francigena Ways, rurAllure consortium partner – retraced the entire route during the event “Via Francigena. Road to Rome 2021. Start again!”. The event turned out to be a precious opportunity to experience first-hand thermal heritage found along the Via Francigena.
This vast heritage is linked to the presence of thermal water that naturally gushes out near the Via Francigena. The pilgrimage routes in some cases are not as well-known as the baths themselves, and it is precisely for this reason that thermal heritage and pilgrimage routes can represent a great combination to enhance and promote each other, being two complementary activities of sustainable tourism.
The thermal heritage along the route of the Via Francigena presents different typologies: the thermal baths can be found both in some urban centers along the route such as Gambassi Terme, Bagno Vignoni and Telese Terme and in other locations reachable with a short detour from the main route, such as the thermal baths of San Casciano dei Bagni or Bagni San Filippo.
The typology also varies: in most cases thermal water is used by private facilities such as spas and hotels (like the “Terme della Via Francigena” in Gambassi Terme), but there are also some natural open thermal sites with a free access (Fosso Bianco in Bagni San Filippo). In other cases, thermal heritage consists or is combined with an important archaeological and historical heritage (Parco dei Mulini in Bagno Vignoni). Generally speaking, the presence of thermal water is an important element of identity and pride for local communities.
During the Road to Rome event the EAVF team conducted site inspections of thermal heritage of the Via Francigena, meeting local stakeholders and researching on thermal heritage. The town of Telese Terme, near Benevento, on the Southern Via Francigena, visited by the team, provided an important opportunity to learn about the thermal heritage which has been little researched so far.
The municipal territory of Telese Terme, located in the Campania countryside, Italy, houses thermal baths and health resorts which date back to 1855, when the King Ferdinand II authorized their construction to exploit the numerous sources of sulfur water, found in this area. Telese Terme also boast a second urban thermal bath park, dating back to 1867 and called “Antiche terme Jacobelli”, which has at least three active sulfur springs, and the remains of the ancient Roman colony Telesia, with two thermal spas.
Pilgrimage is proving to be an increasingly important tool for the promotion of thermal heritage, which combines well-being, history and culture. The EAVF has been working on the project “Thermal Via Francigena” which connects thermal facilities with pilgrims offering them discounts to transport, hospitality and thermal treatment upon presentation of the EAVF pilgrim passport.
Telese Terme is currently in the phase of accession to the EHTTA, the European Historic Thermal Towns Association, a European network of thermal sites, that uses their thermal mineral waters for health and well-being. The EHTTA is a Council of Europe cultural route, which actively collaborates with the Via Francigena and other cultural routes for enhancement of heritage and sustainable tourism.