Medical tourism (also called medical travel, or health tourism) is not a new alternative therapeutic means. Patients have been on the move searching for medical care for thousands of years, while alternative forms of treatment combining natural sources and elements have begun regaining their glamour in modern times.
The first recorded instance of medical tourism dates back thousands of years to when Greek pilgrims traveled from all over the Mediterranean to the small territory in the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria. This territory was the sanctuary of the healing god Asklepios, and soon Epidauria became the original travel destination for medical tourism of the times.
Spa towns and sanitariums popped up in ancient Greece wherever there was hot water rising from the hollows of the earth. People deemed water as a holy means of treatment and paid tributes to the Greek gods Asclepios and Hygeia (meaning health.) Even before that time, in ancient Babylonia, healers and physicians always knew the properties of water and its possible uses.
In the 5th-Century B.C., the historian Herodotus became the first person to observe and describe spring waters in Greece. The Father of Medicine, Heppokrates of Kos, also recorded the healing properties observed when patients visited water springs. In 1500 B.C., ancient Greeks visited hot and cold water springs for hygiene reasons and soon created public spas in the cities, where patients suffering from various ailments could find treatment.
The most important hot spring of antiquity was located in Euboia and more specifically in Aedipsus (or Edipsus,) where more than 75 thermal springs allowed patients to swim in the healing waters. Both Plutarch and Aristotle wrote about Aedipsos, and archeological evidence suggests that it has been in use for at least 20,000 years.
The site soon gathered the attention of Roman statesman and General Cornelius Sylas, who in 83 A.D. built the first stone thermal spa construction there. The thermal spa facilities in Edipsos remain to date the best hot water springs one can find in Greece. This spa is unique in that the hot springs are located under the sea level, allowing visitors to swim in the swirling warm water.
During the Byzantine era, the thermal springs of Prousa and Pythia flourished, while in 900 A.D. the first thermal spa was built in Lagkadas aiming at offering medical services to its visitors. By the early 19th-Century, hot springs and the benefits of water ailments were totally abandoned, until the first prime minister of the newly formed Greek state, Ioannis Kapodistrias, sent a committee in 1830 to conduct chemical analyses at the thermal springs of Kythnos. By 1927, major thermal springs across the country had their own permanent certified water doctors, while some years later the local society for Medical Hydrology and Climatology got a seat at the University of Athens.
The visitors of therapeutic water spas have been on the rise the last decades with seniors taking the lead. From 1980 and on, however, not only pensioners but people of all ages began traveling to hot spring sites in order to combine vacations with natural healing procedures and relaxation. The modern mainstream ideas of holistic medicine and alternative natural therapies seemed to bring a new breath of life into these 20,000-year-old springs.