Roman Baths at Bath
The Roman Baths complex is a site of a well-preserved ancient Roman public bath and museum. The Roman Baths themselves are below the modern street level. There are four main parts to the complex: the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and the museum, holding finds from Roman Bath. The buildings above street level date from the 19th century.
Bath is the largest city in the county of Somerset, England, best known for its Roman-built baths. Bath is in the valley of the River Avon, 97 miles (156 km) west of London. Early in its history, the city became a spa centre with the Latin name Aquae Sulis meaning “the waters of Sulis”, about 60 AD when the Romans built baths and a temple at this ancient spot on the River Avon. The hot springs were known well before the Romans and were a sacred site for the local Celts, with a reputation for heated springs that healed the sick.
Archaeological evidence shows that the site of the Roman baths’ main spring was treated as a shrine by the Britons, and was dedicated to the goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva. The name Sulis continued to be used after the Roman invasion, appearing in the town’s Roman name, Aquae Sulis. Messages to her scratched onto metal, known as curse tablets, have been recovered from the sacred spring by archaeologists. The tablets were written in Latin, and cursed people whom the writers felt had wronged them.
Later with the arrival of Christianity, Bath Abbey was founded in the 7th century and became a religious centre. In the 17th century, claims were made for the curative properties of water from the springs, and Bath became famous as a spa town in the Georgian era. Georgian architecture, crafted from Bath stone, together with modern streets and squares laid out in the 18th century made the city fashionable and attracted a growing population and wealth.
The Romans constructed a temple in AD 60–70, and a bathing complex was built up over the next 300 years. Roman engineers drove oak piles into the mud to provide stable foundations and surrounded the spring with an irregular stone chamber lined with lead. In the 2nd century, the spring was enclosed within a wooden barrel-vaulted structure that housed the Roman Baths consisting of the caldarium (hot bath), tepidarium (warm bath), and frigidarium (cold bath).
The town was later given defensive walls in the 3rd century. After the retreat of Roman authority in the first decade of the 5th century, the baths fell into disrepair and were eventually lost as a result of rising water levels and silting.
The baths were eventually rediscovered and modified on several occasions, and today the springs are housed in 18th-century architecture. Victorian expansion of the baths complex followed the neo-classical tradition. Victorian visitors drank the waters in the Grand Pump Room, a neo-classical salon which remains in use, both for taking the waters and for social functions.
Highlights at the Roman Baths
- The Sacred Spring Overflow
- Earliest Inscription from the Roman Baths
- The Temple Pediment of the Temple Sulis Minerva
- Gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva
- Hypocaust of the Heated Room in the Roman Baths
- The Curse Tablets
- Gravestone of a Cavalryman
- Historical Exhibits and Objects at the Roman Baths
Roman Baths at Bath
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Photo Credit: JOM