When swimming in the local pool, have you ever wondered about the history of the swimming pool and how it became so popular with the general public?
It’s interesting as swimming pools have been around for centuries but often, we only see them as more recent additions to society.
People from ancient civilisations were domesticating lakes, oceans, seas and rivers well before building pools was even thought about. Swimming has always been important for humans, especially those who roamed the seas exploring far off lands.
Swimming pools have been around since about 2600 BCE when the world’s first swimming pool, the Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro was first constructed. They were mainly cold-water baths built from brick and stone.
As they were used for religious ceremonies, they were mainly used by men which was a tradition that would last for centuries.
2000 years later, the ancient Greeks began installing bath houses and pools in major cities and larger towns. Now used as meeting places for politicians, lawmakers and businessmen as well as for relaxation; they proved extremely popular with the elite.
Plato used them to help teach local children to swim so even then they were aware of how important swimming was as a skill.
It was another 600 or so years before the first heated swimming pool was erected by diplomat Gaius Maecenas of Rome. They proved to be so popular that every city across the empire had one made, including those in Britain.
Again, these were used as meeting places as well as spas for relaxing. There are a lot of sources from this time where important businessmen would regularly meet in the bath house to conduct their business and take time to relax as well as armies using pools throught ancient Greece and Rome as part of martial training.
In ancient Egypt, children would swim the nile and have swimming competitions, but noblemen and the ruling families would have their own swimming pools where they could relax, swim and hold their own versions of the competitions the local children would hold.
The Egyptians bath houses were sensuous places, full of essential oils and flower oils to aid in aromatherapy which they were very interested in. Many of the bath houses in Egypt also had an original adaptation of hot tubs and spa pools with hot and cold water to aid in muscle recovery.
The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all believed that swimming was important for overall health and wellbeing and man-made pools became very popular and more ostentatious as the civilisations changed and evolved over time.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, swimming fell out of popularity. In fact, bathing as a whole thing wasn’t encouraged throughout much of British history!
Swimming pools eventually came back into fashion in the early 1800s when the Victorians became mildly obsessed with the Romans. Roman bath houses were excavated, rebuilt and opened again.
Lidos and pools were opened to the public and so people could swim publicly for the first time in years. Women and men were often still segregated, and women were in full dress pretty much up until the mid-1920s.
However, swimming was becoming a popular pasttime and it was becoming clear that it was a great way to keep on top of physical fitness if other methods of cardio weren’t right.
In 1837, the first swimming organisation was formed in London, and this is where swimming became a competitive sport. With this, more pools needed to be built for training, competitions and eventually olympic events.
It is thought that Maidstone Swimming Club in Maidstone, Kent is the oldest swimming club that still exists today, formed in 1844 in response to the town’s concern over a spate of drownings in the River Medway.
By 1869 the Amateur Swimming Association was formed, followed in 1909 by the Oxford Swimming Club, and along with these clubs indoor swimming pools began being built again.
After the first Modern Olympic Games began in 1896, swimming became a popular pasttime again. Americans started joining in on the action and the Adriatic ship was the first cruise liner to have a pool installed and go out to sea.
Swimming became so popular that it became clear that more pools would have to be built. In America, Canada and Western Europe, pools would be built to keep interest up, new sports and classes were created to involve even more people and public pools became the place to see and be seen.
After World War II, swimming lessons were standardised and taught in schools as part of the education of elementary age boys and girls, classes became popular for babies to young adults as it was deemed a necessary skill for children to have.
With swimming becoming a way of life, different swimming strokes started to come to the fore, the front crawl was first introduced in 1844 by two Native American men in front of a European audience who took it up and soon it was used as a stroke in many competitive swimming events.
It should be mentioned here that in some areas, indoor pools became so popular that they nearly took over the population – New Zealand for instance has the highest amount of pools per capita – there are roughly 4.4 million people in New Zealand, and 65,000 home pools and 125,000 indoor or spa pools.
Modern day artificial pools will use a variety of different chemicals to keep them clean, but back in the day of early pools, a lot of the time there was no type of hygiene or cleaning unless absolutely necessary.
Water treatment is a huge part of pool plant maintenance and it has come a long way since the very first public baths back in ancient history.
Swimming pools nowadays have created some of the most successful athletes that we’ve seen – Michael Phelps is still one of the most decorated American athletes with 23 gold medals, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals.
Taking up swimming is a great way of doing a full body workout without too much strain on your muscles so is perfect for getting back into exercise after injury.