Tunisia's Foundation of Youth
By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer
With more than 100 hot spring locations spread throughout the country, Tunisia is favored by nature with a marvelous variety of healing waters. Since Carthaginian times, its curative baths have been a mecca for people with a wide variety of diseases. In the early centuries, men and women came seeking the benefits of that country’s spas by following the laws of a divine rite laid down by Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine.
The spas’ aura of mystery added to the virtues of their therapeutic qualities have for hundreds of years attracted an endless flow of people. To the Romans, these North African springs were aqua miracula (miracle waters) which were heated by the gods who also gave them the properties of aqua fluventa (waters of youth).
Modern Tunisia has opted for, not the legendary or folkloric but, the healing qualities of these hot baths. Most are operated by personnel specialized in the medical field, a good number of whom have links to international medicinal institutions. The most important of these springs are managed by highly qualified medical staffs under the auspices of the National Office of Thermalism.
Tunisia’s has a number of popular spas like the Hammam Bourguiba, located 200 km (124 mi) west of Tunis near the Algerian border, and Jebel Oust and Hammam Lif, both near Tunisia’s capital. However, the country’s most renowned springs are located in the little white town of Korbous – once the Aquae Caldae Carpitanae of Roman aristocrats and nobles.
Nestled at the base of a valley overlooking the Gulf of Tunis on the north shore of the Cap Bon Peninsula, its spas were for hundreds of years frequented by the opulent of Carthage and Rome. In the subsequent centuries, the popularity of Korbous’s hot baths lapsed until in the 19th century Ahmed Bey (Tunisia’s ruler) took an interest in their waters. After retiring he built a villa perched on a rock overlooking the town which Habib Bourguiba (Tunisia’s first president after the country gained its independence) converted into a presidential palace.
Today, the village of Korbous, set in a colored rugged landscape amidst wild greenery and rock, has become a fashionable modern thermal resort. There is not much to this tiny town, located 49 km (30 mi) from Tunis. The hot springs are the only reason for its existence. It has one main street lined with small shops and a number of lodging places – the most important being Hotel Les Sources, Clinique des Themes, and a few apartment buildings. Its ancient Roman hammam (bathhouse) and Zarziha Rock, said to cure infertility, which has been polished by generation after generation of women sliding down on its face, add to the spas’ appeal for both local and foreign visitors.
However, what has made Korbous famous for thousands of years are its seven springs: Ain el Kébira (Great Spring), Ain Echiffa (Healing Spring), Ain Arraka (Hot Spring), Ain Sbia (Virgin Spring), Ain Fakrun (Turtle Spring), Ain Atrous (Goat Spring), and Ain Thalassira, a highly mineralized spring whose waters are excellent in the treatment of eczema.
The sulfurous waters from six of the springs flow at a temperature as high as 60˚C (140˚F) and are noted for their radio-active and curative properties. They are used in treating those affected with chronic rheumatism of all kinds, arthritis, neurological and digestive problems, gynecological and stomatological disorders, and skin diseases. Ain Atrous, 1 km (2/3 mi) east of town is the only one of the springs not utilized. Its waters, falling into the sea, are 72˚C (160˚F) – much too hot. However, bathers romp in the bay into which these waters flow Ain Oktor (Spring Which Flows Drop by Drop), set in a steep ravine, is located on the seacoast’s winding road 3 km (2 mi) to the west of Korbous. Its gently flowing waters are slightly chlorinated and contain small amounts of sulfur, calcium, and magnesium. Many seek them for the relief of a wide variety of urinary system disorders. Its waters are also bottled and are much in demand throughout Tunisia. The spa became very accessible after the building of the Hotel Ain Oktor beside the spring.
The thermal establishments in Korbous, somewhat expensive, are endowed with the most modern installations and medical staff who treat patients in clinics or, at times, in their hotel rooms. Depending on the type of affliction, a wide spectrum of treatments are employed. Medicinal tub baths, tub balneotherapy, foot, and arm baths, cloak douche, and underwater or jet showers are all utilized.
Besides those with ailments, healthy customers, who wish to stay that way, are welcomed. Programs of relaxation and fitness combined with the healing properties of the springs, refreshing climate, hiking trails, and balanced meals are offered.
Medical personnel who know Korbous’s waters believe that they are of great help in relieving the stresses of the 20th century.
Chemical intoxication, environmental pollution, overwork, and traffic or work accidents can all be alleviated by the hot baths in this historic town. As in Carthaginian and Roman times, they continue to be much sought after for their healthful qualities. Only nowadays, the fountain of youth found in their waters is a romantic hard-to-believe yet want-to-believe fable.