7 August, 2015
For many of us, swimming pools are the hallmark of our childhood summers, whether we visited the community pool each weekend or had our own in our backyard. Splashing our parents with cannon balls, eating lunches while clad in towels at picnic benches and patio tables, laying out in the sun – these all paint a picture of summer vacations and being young. Swimming is such a defining activity, in fact, that it's tough to remember that pools weren't always popular. Pools have a particularly lengthy and tumultuous history, though, and it took thousands of years for them to become what they are today. Ready to dive in?
The settlement of Mohenjo-Daro, located in Pakistan, was home to the first pool-like water tank in the world. Technically referred to as a "great bath," it was only a couple meters deep, though it was as long and wide as a modern pool. It was difficult to make it totally water tight during this time period (before concrete mixers and modern pavers), but the citizens were able to achieve this by using gypsum plaster and natural tar. This wasn't a pool for swimming, but for religious rituals.
Pools from ancient Rome and ancient Greece are closer to the kind we know and love today. This was the first time in history that humans could afford luxury items – or had the time to dedicate to them. These pools were still frequently used for religious purposes, but they were also used for bathing and relaxing. Aesthetic appeal became important to pool owners. In most societies across the globe, primitive or modern, bodies of water are considered to be very beautiful. Some of the most wealthy Romans and Greeks had personal pools filled with live fish.
In this century, the Romans ushered in the first heated pools. Built by Gaius Marcenus, the very first of their kind brought pool building too a new level of innovation. During this time period, many Romans began to try to chemically sanitize their pools.
The Romans upped the ante with one of their most famous pools in 300 A.D. It was an immense structure at 900,000 square feet, designed for the same purposes as previous pools, but there was one major difference: The pool was heated from beneath with fires.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, swimming pools dropped from popularity. Perhaps it was that many similarly advanced civilizations didn't have the optimal weather or soil, or perhaps existing pools were constructed of other materials that degraded quickly. Regardless, it wasn't until many centuries later that swimming pools regained popularity.
Public bathing is deemed immoral by the church. What was left of public bathing and swimming centers becomes even more rare, as modern "swimsuits" had not yet been invented.
It wasn't until the 1800s that swimming itself became a popular activity. Swimming competitions became prevalent in Great Britain, and so the development of pools began again. The first swimming clubs were established during this century. Some were used for sport, and some public pools were once again used for bathing (clothed, this time).
Modern water treatment begins, starting with sand filtration and chlorination. This meant that pool water could be reused, saving time, money and resources – and making usage safer for everyone. After World War II, a great deal of the U.S. population spread into suburbs, buying larger homes with more land. This is when private pool became insanely popular – and interest has only grown since.
Today, there are thousands of pools across the U.S. alone. They're one of the most popular backyard features around. (Hey, we're not mad about it.)