With an attractive position and an air of passé gentility, Loutrá Aedipsoú, has something of the look and feel of a spa in the Italian Lakes. Ancient Aedepsos and its waters were popular with the Romans who were the first systematically to develop a thermal station here. Evidence of this can be seen in the hill, crowned by the church of Aghios Phanourios, directly behind the new Municipal Thermal Baths about 400m in from the south shore. The main springs originally rose in a grotto here, known as ‘Sulla's Cave'. The source was covered in a structure in Roman times: the cruciform design of its four vaults can still clearly be seen. Two inscribed statue bases lying at the entrance commemorate two patrons of the waters – the Emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus.
The hot springs were a centre of cult from ancient times and were probably linked to the worship of Hercules. Aristotle noted them in his Meteorologica and Strabo referred to them as ‘The Springs of Hercules'. The town grew up in the Hellenistic period and was visited by later Macedonian kings. One of the most famous visitors in the Roman period was Sulla, who came here to cure his gout; Plutarch describes the great banquets he gave. The spa achieved its greatest prosperity between 100 BC and 400 AD when numerous Emperors and dignitaries visited, including Hadrian, Septimius Severus and Constantine the Great. The spa suffered with the arrival of Christianity when early Christians attacked what they saw as a cause of the dissipation of the inhabitants. It revived after the establishment of a bishopric in the eighth century, under the Metropolitan of Athens. Under Frankish rule the town was known as ‘Lipso'. It went into decline as a result of the growth of piracy and in the 15th century was laid waste by raiders. After Greek Independence little happened until the end of the 19th century when the spa was gradually developed under the influence of a new European predilection for ‘taking waters'. It became the most fashionable resort in Greece for a time after World War I when the poet Cavafy was a visitor and well-to-do Athenians came to gamble in its Casino.
A small Archaeological Collection (Notionally open 10-1 daily, except Sundays, from July to September, but currently closed for lack of staff) is gathered in two rooms on the upper floor of the Municipal Bathing Centre. Room I exhibits prehistoric finds, including fragments of Mycenaean pottery and a bronze sword of the same epoch, found near Kastaniotissa; Room II has mostly inscriptions, and architectural and sculptural fragments in marble from the city's classical and Byzantine buildings, including areas of the 5th century mosaic floor from the thermae. Also exhibited in the upper floor of the hallway of the building, and freely accessible whenever the baths are open (daily 7am - 9 pm), are two pieces of note: the headless, 1st century AD statue of a man wearing a himation (the missing head was originally part of the whole single piece of marble), and a fine Roman relief, figuring the bow and pelt of Hercules, in which there is a pleasing and harmonious play of contours and forms. A number of pieces (inscribed, statue bases and other fragments) lie to either side of the entrance to the building and in the adjacent park.
A Roman bath is visible under the Galaxias supermarket at Omirou 12.
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)