Caldas da Rainha - Portugal


Caldas da Rainha (The Queen's Spa) is located north of Lisbon, close to the coast, about an hour's drive from the capital. 

Legend has it that Queen Leonor, consort of King Joao II founded the thermal hospital in the town at the end of the 15th century after discovering for herself the therapeutic benefits of the sulphur-rich waters, now famous for treating skin and bone ailments.  It is thought that her thermal hospital was the world's first purpose-built spa hospital.

In the late 19th century, the D.Carlos I Park was built, complete with an ornamental lake, originally supplied with thermal waters, and this lake and park now form part of the thermal district of the town – perfect for relaxation. Some of the historic thermal buildings are undergoing a programme of restoration, in order to revitalise the area and to bring them back in to use as spa buildings.

Today, Caldas da Rainha, with its many fine examples of Art Nouveau architecture has a bustling shopping district, and a lively daily produce market, selling local produce from the area which has become known as the “garden of Portugal”. It is a centre for many outdoor activities including ballooning, water sports and horse-riding, and is close to beautiful beaches, and charming medieval towns and fishing villages.

Historical background

At the turn of the 15th century, baths and a new settlement were founded around a spring of high-quality thermal waters. This spring/settlement later became known as Caldas da Rainha (The Queens’s Spa). This small area was situated between the noble lands of Alcobaça and Óbidos. Its borders were set in 1511, when the status of autonomous municipal court was also granted.

Since the borders were merely administrative, men and goods crossed easily, making this territory a thriving one. A Large Thermal Hospital, constructed later on attracted people from all over Portugal.
The settlement was frequented by common people and Caldas Rainha´s spa was no exception. In his will in 1222, Don Zouco from Atouguia, who owned the village of Cornada (now called Tornada) bequeathed a maravedi to improve the spa baths, the same amount to a nearby inn and the Espírito Santo Friary. This important document, which was unearthed by Rui de Azevedo, enabled João Saavedra Machado to reconstruct the medieval layout of Caldas´ baths: the baths themselves, an inn for healing the sick; one or two chapels (dedicated to the Holy spirit or St. Sylvester) under the supervision of the Benedictine monks of Santa Maria do Rocamador.

The Santarém Leper´s Hospital Deed, dated the following year, provides evidence that in the 1220´s, the sick travelled from relatively far afield to the hot springs and would be given twelve days rations. Similar evidence can be found in a document from the first of the 14th century: in 1336/1337, Álvaro Pais, the bishop of Silves, wrote to King Afonso the 4th that he would travel from there to the spring waters in order to treat a skin disease.

By the second half of the 15th century, the baths were becoming extremely dilapidated, as the Order of Santa Maria de Rocamador declined, according to J.S. Machado. Concern over this matter is shown in Don Afonso’s charter of privileges dated 26 June 1474, in which the King granted special benefits to anyone who provided the sick who travelled to the springs with board and lodging.

Later on, in the latter half of the 15th century, it was Queen Leonor, wife of King João the second’s decision to found a hospital that gave the future settlement a new life.

The Queen’s founding did not take place over-night. The process included the following aspects:
Firstly, the Portuguese Crown’s concern at the way the sick were treated. It is said that the queen herself was successfully treated using Caldas water, probably in 1484. In fact, two of the theories put forward at the time as to why the Queen was taking an interest in Caldas’s baths. The legend says that, one day in 1484, the Queen Leonor found a group of peasants bathing in foul-smelling waters by the roadside. She stopped to inquire about this oddity and was told that the waters possessed curative powers. She decided to try them for herself. She was pleased to find that she was quickly relieved of some affliction she had been suffering. The queen ordered a thermal hospital built on that site so that others may enjoy the relief that she felt. The Queen quickly decided to equip the site with means for receiving and treating the sick, even there was no settlement.

Secondly, the springs flowed quickly, constantly and the water was close to body temperature. And lastly, the number of sick travelling there, mainly ordinary and poor people, grew after 1484, as a result of the works sponsored by the Queen.

Such circumstances meant that the Queen’s original idea, to create a hospice or medieval hospital, was changed to that of merging baths and a clinic, thermal therapy and medicine, in other words a modern hospital, the first modern hospital in Portugal.

The hospital was completed in 1508 (the adjoining church was completed in 1488), and named Hospital da Nossa Senhora do Pópulo (The Hospital of Our Lady of the People). It was the first institution of its kind and remains so to this day, being the oldest functional thermal hospital in the world.

Today we can visit the Thermal Hospital for treatments or for cultural purposes, as well as the Church “Nossa Senhora do Pópulo" and the Hospital Museum.

Water sources

The waters in Caldas da Raihna are rich in sulphur and more or less at body temperature.

Cultural heritage

Caldas has three mid-18th-century baroque fountains which were declared properties of public interest in 1982:
Chafariz da Estrada da Foz (Fountain of Foz do Arelho Road),

Chafariz da Rua Nova (Fountain of the New Street),and

Chafariz das Cinco Bicas (Fountain of the Five Spouts)


1 - Thermal Hospital Rainha Dona Leonor

Founded in 1485 by Queen Leonor. It is built on springs of sulfuric water and is the world's oldest thermal hospital. In the year 1484, during a trip to Batalha, the Queen Dona Leonor spotted a group of commoners who were bathing in muddy waters. Curious, she inquired about this ritual. It was explained to her that these were miraculous waters which, according to legend, after having tested those waters herself, was cured of the ailments she suffered at the time. Satisfied with its curative power, in the following year ordered the construction of the Thermal Hospital, so that it could heal the sick in it. It was from this point that, in her honour, Caldas da Rainha emerged.

2 – Estrada da Foz Spout Fountain
Initially placed beside the Thermal Hospital, the Estrada da Foz Spout Fountain is currently at the descent of the roundabout of the statue of Rainha Dona Leonor (towards Foz do Arelho). This was the first of 3 water fountains built by order of Dom João V in 1748, when the reform of the water supply network was going on. Although we can see in all of the three fountain spouts the inscription of the year 1749, they were only completed in 1751.

3 – Rua Nova’s Fountain Spout
This fountain spout was the second of 3 fountains built by order of Dom João V, when the reform of the water supply network occurred. This fountain has a single spout that, conjointly with the remaining two fountains and six waterspouts, forms a set of seven spouts. Its adapted tap spout drips into an oval basin, flaunted by a cylindrical shape. Laterally, there is a stone bench and two tanks, which were used as a watering hole for animals and also to wash clothes. You can as well read an inscription in Latin: “Pleiadum que secunda” - the second constellation.

4 – 5 Bicas’ Fountain
This was the last and most important of the three fountains, ordered to be built in 1748 by Dom João V, with the goal of providing water for the population. It is distinguished by its size and by the apparatus of the scrolls and the basins, where once the water cascaded. Since 1982, it is classified as Public Interest property by the Portuguese Institute of Architectural Heritage (IPPAR).

5 – Aqueduct
The aqueduct is located in Mata Rainha Dona Leonor, near the district Hospital and Jardim da Água. It is authored by the engineer Manuel da Maia and the architect Eugenio dos Santos, in the year of 1748, demanded by the King Dom João V. This monument was a key element of the design of water supply to the Village, since it supplied the population, kitchens and gardens of the Thermal Hospital.

6 – Jardim da Água
Jardim da Água is located next to Mata Rainha Dona Leonor, behind the 5 Bicas Fountain. This is one of the greatest works of Caldas da Rainha’s artistic performance. The initiative to build this garden came from the imagination of the Master Ferreira da Silva. It is intended to allow an artistic swirl of water through various plans, quickened colour and light. It was designed to illustrate the four seasons, but soon was felt that the aquifer represents the birth of the city. Glass, ceramics and iron are some of the materials used in this glorious work.

7 – The Lake
The architect Rodrigo Berquó carried out a set of various changes and innovations to the areas surrounding the Thermal Hospital. These were intended to search for the symbiosis between the various elements that constituting the Thermal Hospital, giving origin to the Parque Dom Carlos I, in the late 19th century. One of the innovations was the transformation of existing vines in the park, into an artificial lake situated in the middle of it, sponsored by thermal waters. The first row boat race happened in 1893, as well as the enjoyable row boat rides. The lake thus constituted one of the biggest entertainment of the holiday season, and nowadays is a pleasant place for boat rides, observing the flora and the fauna, while enjoying the nature and the Romantic and Naturalist style provided by the architect Rodrigo Berquó.

Spa and treatments


The Thermal hospital and balneary presently offer two ty0pes of integrated services in treatment and preventions.  Water treatments are used for arthritis, rheumatism, sinusitis, traumatic illness, gout, chronic laryngitis, bronchitis and asthma.  


The hospital also provides other treatments such as Vichy and jet showers, inhalations, simple and sonic aerosols nose irrigation, gargling and treatments for muscle and bone diseases.

Famous visitors

Artists writers, politicians and royalty all visited Caldas da Rainha:
Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro,
José Malhoa,
Visconde de Sacavém,
Óscar Carmona,
D. José da Cruz Policarpo,
Lord Stuart 1826,
Principe Lichnowsky – 1842,
conde A. Raczinski – 1843,
D. Fernando– 1875,
Royal Family – Residency until late 1800´s,
D. Manuel II – 1910
Queen Leonor frequently stayed in Caldas da Rainha, having built a palace (currently the hospital museum).

Cultural events and activities

There are several festivals held throughout the year: 

Oeste Lusitano - horse and bull show - Caldas da Rainha has the oldest bullring in Portugal.

Summer festivals on the beach 

Expotur gastronomy festival (August)
Fruit Fair

Jazz Festival (October and November)

Christmas Markets (December)

 The town has a thriving arts culture, with theatre, concerts, and exhibitions being held all year round, and is world-famous for its glazed ceramic pottery, produced at the Bordallo Pinheiro factory.  The town has several museums including the Hospital Museum, dedicated to interpreting the development of the thermal hospital and the urban areas that grew up around it.



Each August, Caldas da Rianha holds a food and gastronomy festival, called Expotur, bringing together typical dishes from the region. 

Local foods to try include  traditional pastries and dishes, Cavacas, beijinhos, trouxas, lampreia de ovos. In the local  countryside, you can enjoy typical dishes of roasted rabbit, grilled mix of meat, codfish and polvo à lagareiro (octopus).

Daily fish and produce markets in the town showcase the rich variety of local ingredients. 


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