Natural mineral waters and spring waters are an important part of Europe’s cultural heritage and have been enjoyed and recognized for their purity for hundreds of years. Water sources were once common sites of worship and archaeological studies have found that offerings were thrown into springs as sacrifices for fertility, rebirth and regeneration. In fact, natural springs emerging from the ground were considered magical, infused by the Gods for their therapeutic and healing powers.
The ancient Romans recognised the benefits of drinking and bathing in natural waters. Roman public baths were used for health, hygiene, and recreational purposes. As their empire grew, the Romans built baths throughout Europe – from the Mediterranean to the banks of the Rhine and Danube. The modern thermal resorts of today derive from the Roman tradition and some have even been developed on or near these historical sites.
The curative properties of natural mineral waters became a topic of renewed interest by the 18th century. In an era of limited disease prevention, natural mineral waters were increasingly regarded as an important means of healing. By the 19th century thermal resorts had become fashionable destinations for the wealthy who visited to bathe and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of mineral water. Many hoped to find miracle cures for their ailments.
At a time when the effects of pollution and illnesses contaminated the municipal supply, water was not always sanitary or safe to drink. Water borne illnesses such as cholera and typhoid encouraged people to seek uncontaminated, natural drinking water from springs.
With the success of thermal resorts and the recognised therapeutic benefits of mineral and spring water, people sought to take the medicinal waters from the thermal towns they visited and continue benefiting from their healing properties.
The bottling and commercialisation of natural mineral waters first began in Europe in the mid 16th century, with mineral water from Spa in Belgium, from Vichy in France, from Ferrarelle in Italy and Apollinaris in Germany.
It is said that the first mechanical corking machine was invented in France in 1840 and bottling plants emerged throughout the continent by the late 19th century. As such, other European countries also adopted the trend of bottling waters from the source, including Malvern, England’s first bottled water in 1851, Germany’s Appolinaris in 1892 and the Italian mineral water, San Pellegrino in 1899. Bottled waters were sold as medicinal treatment in pharmacies until the 20th century.
By the end of the Second World War, bottled water became more widely distributed through grocery stores and began to be served in cafés and restaurants as a beverage.
Today, natural mineral water is readily available as a convenient and healthy beverage in a wide range of formats and packaging materials.