It is widely thought that the “Great Bath” found at the site of Mohenjo-daro (which means Mound of the Dead), Pakistan is the first purpose built swimming pool for the public to use. The bath was built during the third millennium BCE and measures twelve metres (north – south) by seven metres; it had a maximum depth of 2.4 metres. So how was it engineered to stay watertight? Bricks were tightly laid together with the use of gypsum plaster in between each brick, for the walls and floor of the pool. To make it even more water tight,
a thick layer of natural tar was plastered over the walls and (it is presumed) underneath of the flooring.
The general belief held by historians is that the Great Bath would have been used for religious purposes and the general health and well being of the bathers rather than being used in sport participation.
SPORT AND FITNESS
We have the Ancient Greeks and Romans to thank for the idea of using swimming pools for sport and fitness. The Greeks first built artificial pools for water based games and military training in their palaestras between the 6th and 8th Centuries BCE (an open court area where people could play ball games, box, wrestle and swim). Like us, the Greeks and Romans regarded swimming pools as aesthetically pleasing and a way of enhancing their properties, so as the standard of living rose due to increased wealth; more people could afford the luxuries. One of the Latin words for a pool is
“piscina”, due to the fact that Roman emperors had private swimming pools in which also held fish. Gaius Maecenas, a rich Roman lord who is also considered one of the first patrons of the arts, is credited with building the first heated swimming pool. As mentioned, swimming pools were used by both the Greeks and Romans for military training (swimming is, even to this day, regarded the best form of all round exercise), it was also regarded to be a necessary part of a Greek child’s education, a long with maths, writing, astronomy, etc. to be able to swim and this dates all the way back to 400 BCE.
The Romans and Ancient Greeks were not the only ones who built pools to bathe in. Kuttam Pokuna (twin ponds/pools) can be found in Sri Lanka and is one of the best preserved aquatic tanks. The twin pools were built by the Sinhalese people in the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura and are regarded to be a considerable achievement in hydrological engineering as well as being outstanding creations in architecture and art.
Before water entered the pools, it travelled through underground ducts and was filtered and this process was repeated when the water was emptied. Decoration of the twin pools’ steps is of a scroll design with pots of abundance.
The Maidstone Swimming Club in Maidstone, Kent is thought to be the oldest surviving swimming club in Britain. The club was formed in 1844 due to great concern over drownings in the River Medway, especially as people trying to perform the rescue, would often drown themselves, as they couldn’t return safely. Even though the club used the River Medway as its venue for races, diving and water-polo competitions, swimming pools had actually become popular in 1837, with six pools equipped with diving boards situated in London, England. The National Swimming Society introduced competitive swimming around the same time as the London pools which were used for these competitions. These competitions grew in popularity and led to the formation of the Amateur Swimming Association in 1869.
THE MODERN DAY SWIMMING POOL
The Racquet Club of Philadelphia clubhouse (1907), USA is the proud owner of one of the first modern day above-ground swimming pools, whilst the first swimming pool to go to sea, was installed on an ocean liner called the Adriatic in 1907 by White Star Line. We also still have in-ground swimming pools. One of oldest modern day in-ground pools can be found in Austin, Texas, USA and is called Deep Eddy Pool. Deep Eddy started naturally as a swimming hole in the Colorado River, cold springs rose from the river banks and people started swimming where a large boulder formed
an eddy. A. J. Eilers Sr bought the land surrounding the swimming hole in 1915 and built a concrete pool which was the main feature of a resort called the Deep Eddy Beach, which also consisted of cabins, and camping facilities. Deep Eddy is now a listed historical landmark.