Springs, or natural, self-contained and concentrated groundwater outflows, are primarily associated with upland and mountainous areas. This is not surprising – the degree of nodulation in the lowlands is several to several times lower than in areas with a higher altitude. The number of springs also goes hand in hand with the diversity of their physical-chemical characteristics – oxalic, ferruginous and radon waters are just selected examples of the types of therapeutic waters that have given rise to well-known spas such as Krynica-Zdrój, Polanica-Zdrój, Ladek-Zdrój and Busko-Zdrój. The springs of upland and mountainous areas, especially in karst areas, furthermore achieve significant yields (the amount of water flowing out of the spring per unit time) and are characterized by great scenic and aesthetic value.

Studies have shown that lowland Poland is also home to springs, and although they are less numerous, efficient and recognized, some of them were once used for water therapy. Today, however, they are excellent indicators of human pressure on the natural environment. Such was and is the role of the Mazovian springs beating within two escarpments – the Warsaw escarpment, which is the erosion edge of the Vistula valley, and the Pilica escarpment, extending in the vicinity of Nowe Miasto on the Pilica River.

Water a cure for everything

The therapeutic use of water in the form of baths, showers and poultices, as well as direct ingestion, has been known since ancient times. However, the intensive development and spread of this type of physiotherapy is dated only to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and some of its greatest proponents include Vincenz Priessnitz (1799-1851), Heinrich Friedrich Francke (1805-1848) and Fr. Sebastian Kneipp (1828-1897). It was in the 19th century that specialized spa facilities in Europe flourished the most, becoming very fashionable not only for health reasons, but also for cultural and social reasons.

If we consider that in the first half of the 19th century. traveled exclusively on horseback and long expeditions were cumbersome, to say the least, it is not surprising to see the emergence of such centers in lowland regions seemingly unassociated with spas. Most often they were organized by ambitious doctors enamored of the therapeutic qualities of the local nature, Such is the history of two forgotten spas of the Kingdom of Poland, which are worth looking at in more detail.

Zrodlo Legonice NMnP autor Maksym Laszewski
pic. An untransformed spring in Lęgonice near Nowe Miasto nad Pilica. The hydrochemical type of the source water is HCO3-Ca, Maksym Laszewski

Two spas, a shared history

Wierzbno, now part of Warsaw’s Mokotow district and associated with a subway station, used to be one of the numerous summer resorts frequented by Warsaw residents longing to relax in nature. The local springs, beating abundantly at the foot of the escarpment, were also widely known, which Dr. Ludwig Sauvan, a medical graduate from Vilnius, decided to exploit. The Hydropathic Plant was launched in 1842. modeled after the Priessnitz facility in Grafenberg, and treated a variety of conditions with showers, poultices and baths. The qualities of Wierzbno’s spring waters were highly valued, and they were also used for drinking.

Dr. Natanson believed that their water “(…) is remarkably pure, the taste on very pleasant, invigorating, because of the considerable amount of air dissolved in it (…)”. After Sauvan, the plant was taken over by Matecki, who ran it until the last decades of the 19th century. The expansion of Warsaw (Wierzbno was losing its attractiveness), as well as the outflow of visitors, both to foreign spas and to the New Town on the Pilica River, contributed to its closure.

The history of water therapy in Nowe Miasto nad Pilica began somewhat later than in Wierzbno and was connected with the person of Jan Kapistran Bielinski, a physician who, after studying medicine in Moscow, settled in Nowe Miasto in 1859. He recognized the virtues of this small town, most notably the presence of springs whose water “…contains many limestone parts, and in general is very pure, pleasant to taste and above all cold (…).” The center was opened on May 31, 1874. and was among the most modern in Europe at the time (interestingly, Bielinski was probably familiar with Dr. Sauvan’s facility, and also modeled it on the aforementioned Grafenberg).

The therapeutic treatments offered at the center included showers and baths in water from springs at the foot of the escarpment and in the Pilica River, in addition to physical activities, gymnastics and a proper diet. Among the many patients and visitors to the New City facility are. Narcissa Żmichowska, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Michał Andriolli and Ignacy Paderewski. The development of a thriving center was interrupted in 1915. After it was occupied by the German army, and it was destroyed as a result of subsequent warfare.

The history of the Plants is almost twinned – both were founded by ambitious doctors, both were inspired by Priessnitz’s hydrotherapy, and both used very similar sources in terms of location and type. These outflows, which still exist today, can be characterized as descent outflows (water flows out of them by gravity) and sub-slope outflows, i.e. located at the foot of the slope, at the intersection of the aquifer. They beat from analogous pore-like Quaternary formations – the wierzbens drain layers of water-glacial sands underlain by Pliocene clays, while the Novomiejskies beat from fine- and medium-grained sands, located on clays, silts and loams.

Sources as a litmus test

In addition to the historical significance associated with economic use, the sources mentioned are important in a research and diagnostic context. This is because the study of the chemical composition of spring waters makes it possible to determine the conditions of water circulation in the drained aquifer and to assess the state of the environment and its transformations due to natural and anthropogenic processes, especially when archival comparative data are available.

This is the case with the Willow Springs, which have been studied since the mid-19th century. Here you can see perfectly how human activity within the city leads to the transformation of the physical and chemical characteristics of their waters and the performance regime. Pich and Plochniewski’s research, carried out at the Hydrogeology Department of the Geological Institute in 1964-1966, documented that the spring at ul. Piaseczynska (enclosed, with a constant outflow and location) was characterized by water mineralization of 728-943 mg/l, a maximum chloride ion concentration of 139 mg/l and a capacity of 8-9 l/min.

Zrodlo Krolikarnia autor Maksym Laszewski
pic. An encased spring on Piaseczynska Street in Warsaw’s Wierzbno. The hydrochemical type of the source water is Cl-HCO3-SO4-Ca-Na, Maksym Laszewski

Measurements conducted by us at the Department of Hydrology of the Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies of the University of Warsaw (unpublished) indicated that over the past year (summer ’23 – spring ’24) the mineralization of the waters of the spring at Piaseczyńska fluctuated seasonally between 1217 and 1400 mg/l, chloride concentrations ranged from 280 to 349 mg/l, while the yield – approx. 2.8 l/min. Thus, one can see a clear increase in the mineralization and salinity of the spring’s waters over the past few decades. Its cause is the anthropogenic supply of ions.

This can be collectively blamed on, among others. winter road maintenance, leachate from water and sewage networks, increased atmospheric deposition of pollutants, as well as ion leaching from debris and building remains. The several-fold decrease in yield, in turn, reflects a change in aquifer recharge conditions, resulting from the sealing (concreting) and channelization of the city’s surface (Mokotow is one of the fastest-building districts in Warsaw).

In the case of the springs of the New Town on the Pilica River, the only historical information regarding the quality of their waters is the previously cited reference from the journal Kłosy in 1878. Based on it, it can be concluded that since the operation of the Natural Treatment Facility of Dr. The temperature of the water of the springs in St. John Bielinski has increased – it used to not exceed 7.5-8.0°C, while today it is generally 8-11°C, with a maximum of as much as 16.0°C. On the one hand, this reflects the increase in average air temperature since the 19th century. (Global Warming), and on the other – the impact of anthropogenic heat sources. As in the case of Wierzbno, the output of outflows has also decreased.

However, studies of the water chemistry of the springs of New Town on the Pilica River show other environmental problems. Very high concentrations of nitrate ions from agricultural activities are recorded in sources outside the city. This fact is not surprising, since the Rawska Upland is the orchard basin of Poland, but NO3 nitrate concentrations, averaging 60-80 mg/l, testify to the persistent and serious contamination of the aquifer. The influence of the city can also be seen as in the mirror – within sources currently located in the built-up area, we recorded elevated concentrations of selected trace elements such as nickel, zinc, arsenic and molybdenum, as well as significantly higher concentrations of chloride, potassium and sodium than outside the city.

However, the impact of the urbanized area in the New Town is considerably less than that of Warsaw’s Wierzbno, which can be seen if only by comparing the chemical type of the waters. The natural hydrochemical type (according to the Shchukariev-Priklonskiy classification commonly used in Poland) is the HCO3-Ca(bicarbonate-calcium) type, and this is what is found in Novi Mesto. In the case of Wierzbno, the springs’ waters belong to the highly transformed Cl-HCO3-SO4-Ca-Na type, i.e. chloride-hydrogen-carbonate-sulfate-calcium-sodium.

Undoubtedly, lowland sources can provide valuable information about the current state of the environment. We should also consider them as valuable objects of educational importance, providing a record of human impacts and pressures on groundwater, which is so important to residents, whether in mountainous and upland areas or lowland areas.

In the article, I used, among other things. From the works:

  1. Jokiel P., Michalczyk Z. 2019. Poland’s sources – preserve for the future. Geographical Works 157: 7-31.
  2. Kita J. 2016 Forgotten Polish spas. Księży Młyn Dom Wydawniczy.
  3. Kużawa R., Gutry-Korycka M. 2002. Sources of the Warsaw Escarpment. Geographical Works and Studies 31: 257-278.
  4. Pich J., Plochniewski Z. 1968. Chemism of waters from springs occurring in the Warsaw area. Geological Review 16(11): 511.
  5. A natural health care facility in Nowe Miasto nad Pilica. 1878 Spikes 724: 311.

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