Women lie in the healing mud at Saki, Crimea. (Photo: wackystuff/CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 1827, the town of Saki, in the Crimean peninsula, began to operate as a spa town, with one unusual claim to fame: its mud had healing powers. It was a popular time for spa therapy. Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, doctors prescribed thermal water treatments. Spa towns, such as Bath in England and Baden Baden in Germany, flourished. For Saki, nestled near the Black Sea, visitors could be restored to health with good dose of local mud.

There was a specific procedure for a mud bath at Saki. The mud was extracted from the nearby brine lakes and placed on a large slab, in the sun, for a day. Once prepared, the patient would lie flat on the warmed slab and be quickly covered from neck to feet. For 20 minutes, the patient’s mud-encased body would bake in the sun while her face was protected with a sunshade. The mud would then be removed with salt water and the patient dried off, wrapped up, and left to sweat for two hours.

The doctors at Saki were strict with their mud bath prescriptions, which were recommended for a long list of ailments: “chronic articular affections, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular rheumatism, chronic affections of the pelvic organs in women, in scrofulous conditions, and in syphilis,” according to the 1901 British Medical Journal. A patient could only have the treatment once per day and for “delicate subjects,” only once every two days. Mud baths were prohibited during menstruation.

Today, Saki is still a spa town. However, since the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the resulting Western sanctions, there are fewer visitors. Last year Russia led a promotional campaign to encourage tourism to the region. Those that do visit can still find the celebrated mud.