Swimming Pool History

Mankind has always been fond of bodies of water. Who could resist the blue sparkling beaches, deep lakes, and enchanted rivers? Imagine how immensely breathtaking the scenery must have been back in the day.

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It was only a matter of time before someone finally thought of recreating them. We’ve evolved from catching fish, to leisure swimming, and to water sports, changing the way we deal with our own lives on the daily. 

Now, there are billions—even trillions of pools on a global scale. It’s become a popular instrument for holding competitions, and even more as a form of leisurely past time. 

But how did swimming pools really come about? What inspired our ancestors to create the swimming pool? 

The Great Bath (2500 B.C.)

The first-ever well-known and documented man-made swimming pool was made over 5,000 years ago in the Pakistani City settlement of Mohenjo-daro.

It’s referred to as ‘The Great Bath’ with scholars speculating that it was used for religious functions. 

Archaeologists believe that when you immerse yourself in The Great Bath, your soul will be purified and renewed, like an ancient baptism ritual.

Contrary to its name, The Great Bath only spans 12 meters long and 7 meters wide. It isn’t that great in terms of size as most people would probably assume.

However, its depth is very deep for a pool, extending far down to a maximum of 7 ft. 

Many speculate that the people of the Indus Valley collected rainwater to fill up the pool. On the other hand, archaeologists also found evidence that the bathwater is simply from a nearby large well. 

The pool also has a rustic appearance, looking almost stylish in comparison to modern pools! It’s built from fine bricks held together with gypsum plaster.

Evidently, the side walls are also built in the same manner. Back then, this was an effective way to avoid water leaking out of the pool. 

And just to make sure that the pool is tightly sealed, a thick layer of natural tar was stacked along the sides of the pool and likely beneath the floor, too. 

The Great Bath existed primarily for religious ceremonies and not for leisurely swimming. 

From Religious Rituals To Socialised Bathing (700 B.C.)

Back then, our ancestors only used to see pools as a way to channel spirituality. It wasn’t until the 6th to 8th century B.C when the ancient Greeks and Romans revolutionized the way we see swimming pools today. 

What caused this shift in perspective? 

Our ancestors eventually saw a drastic improvement in their quality of life. Many of them amassed wealth and sought out new experiences—then came the luxury pools. 

Water for the ancient Greeks and Romans during this time was ubiquitous. More than just for aesthetics, they used water for health, religious activities, bathing, and socialization. 

Back in the day, bathing was not treated as a private activity for the Romans. In fact, it was a shared activity. 

Of course, the well-off had the privilege of bathing in private since they can afford their own pool. The rest had to bathe in the communal area—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Aside from bathing being a public thing, it also was an everyday thing for our ancestors. For the typical Roman citizen, it’s not uncommon to visit the bathhouse every day to clean up and socialize. 

The Bathing Complex 

Roman baths featured multiple facilities. Meaning, there are other areas in the bathing complex that serve different functions. 

The following below are some of the most common facilities in Roman bath complexes:

  • Apodyterium – changing rooms
  • Tepidarium – warm bathroom
  • Caldarium – hot, steamy room with a hot bath
  • Frigidarium – cold bath
  • Palaestra – exercise room

Your average bathing complex normally constitutes these facilities. However, some bathing complexes are big enough to house multiple hot and cold baths. 

Some even have a library, a food service, a garden, and a reading room.

You can say that ancient bathing complexes are a lot like our modern-day gymnasiums but equipped with—ironically—more dynamic facilities.

Heated Pools (100 AD)

From ancient baptisms to socialized bathing, innovation is definitely alive and well when it comes to pools.

One man pushed the boundaries and let his imagination run wild. That man was Gaius Maecenas. 

What he built was a highly sophisticated version of the previous hot baths. Back in the 8th century B.C., these hot baths were only heated using braziers. 

But as what’s typical of the Romans, they made this contraption better and stylized it according to their Roman tastes. 

During this time, the heated pools were now powered by a manual furnace system in basements.

Prominent Bath Houses

Ancient bath houses now take on the form of communal spas in the modern world. However, there were some that have been well-preserved to this day. 

In Southern Rome, you can find the Baths of Caracalla, a bathing complex second only in size to Trajan’s Bath of Rome. 

The Baths of Caracalla was also considered as the most extravagant complex that has existed during its prime eras. It features a ceiling height spanning up to 30 meters, covering an area of 337 x 328 m. 

This architectural masterpiece housed not only your typical ancient bathrooms but a meter-deep Olympic-sized swimming pool to boot. 

Its most breathtaking feature? Their caldarium which takes on about a similar height with Rome’s Pantheon, whilst spanning 36 meters in the area. It has large glass windows to amplify the heat and had a waterfall to add as decoration. 

Stagnant Years (100 A.D. – 1800 A.D.)

There weren’t any notable nor recorded milestones for our swimming pools during this time. This period proved to be difficult for our swimming pool builders. The Roman empire fell and bathing became a rare occurrence. 

History for the Romans still lived on, but not for the swimming pools. 

Competitive Swimming (1800 A.D.)

Swimming pools took on a different role in society. It began in 1800s Britain wherein the National Swimming Society first introduced competitive swimming. 

Man-made swimming pools were found in some parts of London where these competitions were held. 

Somehow, competitive swimming has struck a chord with the common people. This enabled their popularity in England, resulting in the formation of the Amateur Swimming Association in the 1880s. 

Interestingly, some of the popular swimming strokes we know of today have been birthed in this era. Competitors first used the side stroke and breaststroke. 

Come 1873, John Trudgen first introduced the front crawl to Britain. After a couple of tweaks here and there, the fastest swimming stroke, popularly known as the freestyle, was born. 

Eventually, in 1896, swimming became officially enlisted in the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. This milestone was what catapulted swimming as a global activity and sport. 

Technology and Modern Swimming Pools 

It wasn’t until the 20th century when swimming pools became a household staple for the common, thriving folk. 

Technological advancements helped swimming pools get where they are today. Earlier pools were much harder to clean. Every drop of water must be removed and replaced with a new one. You can imagine how tedious that can get. 

But thanks to chlorination and sophisticated filtration systems, the pools of today are much cleaner and easier to maintain, making them a popular installation in a neighborhood backyard. 

Swimming Pool History In The United States 

The oldest pool found in the United States was made in 1907 and belonged to the Philadelphia Racquet Club. It’s an above-ground swimming pool that was designed by Roebling Construction Company, a very prominent company that builds bridges. 

In 1979, the Clubhouse was enlisted as part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. 

The American Dream 

At this point, not much innovation happened to swimming pools. We’ve reached a ceiling when it comes to creating something different from the pools in terms of function and look. 

However, many Americans have purchasing power enough to have their dream pools materialized. Additionally, with the rise of leisure establishments, they have to set themselves apart from the competition. 

That said, different kinds of modern pools are popping up. You have the infinity pools, kiddie pools, natural pools, and hot tubs. 

While innovation has currently stopped for swimming pools, this brought diversity and a wide selection of pool types and aesthetic. 

Infinity Pools 

There’s a reason behind the name of infinity pools. The appeal of this type of pool is its ability to trick the vision.

Swimming Pool History

For a pool to be considered an infinity, the water must be flowing to the very edge of the pool. The point of this visual trickery is to imitate the boundless look of the ocean. 

As elegant as they are, infinity pools are quite expensive. It requires expansive detailing especially since they’re usually found built atop of hills. 

The first-ever infinity pool in the United States was designed by architect John Lautner in the early 1960s. 

Kiddie Pools 

Swimming Pool History

Pools were not really kid-friendly back in the day. However, because of their increasing popularity, pools have become more accessible across all demographics, including children. 

Hence, the kiddie pool was born. 

This type of pool is essentially just a smaller and shallower version of regular-sized pools for adults. 

A lot of times, they also come in an inflatable form and are commonly referred to as the blow-up kiddie pool. 

They rose to prominence at the same time the beach ball was invented in 1938. 

Natural Pools 

Swimming Pool History

Another beautiful type of pool is the natural pool. As the name suggests, natural pools feature an earthy design made to mimic the wonders of our lands. 

They can come in the form of garden ponds or just plain swimming pools designed to fit the earthy theme that defines natural pools. 

This type of pool first emerged in the 1980s in Austria. 

Hot Tubs

If you want to experience top-notch relaxation, dipping in a hot tub is one good way to do it. 

Swimming Pool History

Hot tubs have evolved from brazier-heated types to hydrotherapy. It’s more uncommon for a hot tub not to have jet-powered tubs for massage purposes. 

They can be built from a wide range of materials from acrylic to cement or even wood. 

Maintenance of hot tubs can be a bit of work. They require extensive knowledge of water pH balance to keep microorganisms at bay. If not regularly maintained, hot tubs can pose a high risk of diseases because of their high temperatures. 

Wrap Up 

It’s interesting how pools served multiple functions back in the day, only to evolve to serve a completely different function than before.

Swimming pools used to serve a religious function back in 2500 B.C. A couple of thousand years later, the Romans became obsessed with bathing and added an aesthetic touch to the swimming pools. 

Now, swimming pools serve as leisure spots, sporting grounds, or even spa salons. 

They may have gone out of style back in the day, but we can be sure that swimming pools are here to stay forever.

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