“…The soft soil sighs, and closed beneath the boiling pumice the wave digs flaky roads. […] In its midst, like a widespread boiling sea, a blue lake extends, spinning greatly, covering an enormous area …”
Claudian, Aponus, IV century AD
With this troubling, supernatural vision, the poet Claudius Claudian describes the sacred lake that covered the area where the Euganean Spas now lie. In this territory, which at the time was mainly marshland and forest, boiling sulfureous spa waters sprang spontaneous in bubbling springs. An extraordinary phenomenon, considered divine in origin by the ancient Venetian people, so much so that as early as the VIII century BC religious ceremonies were held in the sacred lake, with sacrifices to the gods and baths offering benefits and good health.
The first water-divining activities became the cult of Aponus, guardian god of springs, and added to this was the oracle of Gerion, who was consulted in order to know the future. According to the legend, when passing through Aponus’ land, Hercules founded the cult of Gerion, a mysterious god imprisoned in the bowels of the earth who prophesised the future through a priest or priestess, guardians of the temple, who were able to interpret the prophesies of the god through the spa waters. Svetonius recounts that also young Tiberius invoked the sacred spa spring and, at the request of the oracle,threw in golden dice to find out whether his destiny would be favourable in the battle with the Pannonians, an obligatory step to his accession to the Emperor’s throne. The dice were thrown, and both landed with the highest score upwards. Tiberius conquered the Pannonians and became Emperor (1st century AD).
From 49 BC, when Patavium and the neighbouring lands, including the Euganean Spas, became municipium, an upper class of Romanised “Patavini” was formed, and wishing to emulate the upper classes of Rome they paid great importance to the spa waters, creating public baths and spa stations. The ancient lakeside sanctuary became a rich, multipurpose spa location, visited to revive both body and spirit. Around the spa baths, wide avenues, gardens, fountains, libraries, conference and exhibition rooms, theatres and beautiful patrician villas were built, all well documented in archaeological findings. Many ancient literary sources also confirm the fame of the ‘fons Aponi’ during imperial times: the most important known to date is the poem “Aponus”, composed by the Alexandrian poet Claudius Claudian, following his visit to the area between 396 and 399 AD. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, also Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, was to enjoy the spa, as witnessed in his famous letter, in which he proclaims Abano as the “ornament of my realm, famous throughout the world”.
But at the end of the VI century, the Longobard hordes of king Agilulfo stormed the town, sowing destruction and ruin, and so the Euganean spas fell into oblivion for many centuries. Many archaeological testimonials remain of the opulence of the ancient Roman spa, including the large archaeological area at Montegrotto Terme, the many findings on show at the Atestino National Museum at Este, the Eremitani Civic Museum in Padua and many ancient literary sources.