The Roman Baths is a major tourist attraction in Bath Somerset. The building sits in the centre of the city close to Bath Abbey. This is one of Britain’s best preserved examples of Roman engineering and architecture. For nearly 2000 years the Roman Baths have stood the test of time. Today there is still a natural hot water flowing through it. Bladud, a Celt prince, is said to have first discovered the healing nature of the warm waters here. Celts were still using what was then a warm spring and mud bath when the Romans invaded in 43AD.
Visiting The Roman Baths Today
The Roman Baths is the most popular tourist attractions in Bath today. In 2011 it was visited by over 900,00 people. There is an entry fee for the Baths. It is best to pre-order tickets, especially during peak season. The ticket price changes so check before you go at http://www.romanbaths.co.uk Ticket prices include free audio guides in many languages and even free guided tours. These tours do start at specific times, but they don’t always take place regularly. So it is best to check when you enter, where you have to be to join the next one and what time it will be starting.
On entering on your own you go down into the building to the exhibits. The walk along the terrace will allow you to see over the top of the Great Bath. There are 4 main sections for you to see but, how you see them and in which order is up to you.
- Firstly, you can view The Sacred Spring itself where the waters come from out of the earth.
- Secondly, view the Roman Temple where prayer to Sulis Minerva used to take place.
- Thirdly, see tour around the Roman Bath House itself (the Great Bath) and stand next to the waters.
- Lastly, there are a lot of artefacts to see that have been found here including Minerva’s golden head.
Original Construction and Architecture
Forsythe (2003) tells us the first Roman construction here was around the largest hot spring. This allowed surrounding marshy land to dry out, ready for the main construction to begin. Timbers, stone and lead were brought down the river, shaped, and then put in place on site.
There was initially an entrance hall with small rooms leading off it. These were all to aid the final experience of a dip in the largest pool called the Great Bath. The Great Bath itself is fed from its Northwest corner by a reservoir of hot waters that are a constant 46.5 degrees centigrade. This in turn is fed from the King’s spring.
The building that houses the Great Bath measures 110 feet (33.528 metres) East - West by 70 feet (21.336 metres) North - South. The Great Baths pool measures 60 x 30 x 5 feet deep (18.288 x 9.144 x 1.524 metres deep). This gives us a volume of (60 x 30 x 5) = 9000 cubic feet = 56059.5 imperial gallons (254.852 cubic metres = 254852 litres).
How Romans Used the Baths
Known as Aquae Sulis to the Romans, Bath was a place to rejuvenate, beautify and relax. The Roman Baths here were a place of social interaction. You might come here to discuss business with your partners, or simply relax, unwind and even pray. Perhaps catch up with some local gossip, have your armpit hair plucked and or a normal haircut. Then of course the climax of you visit would be to take a plunge in the warm, healing waters.
There are many bath constructions from the Roman period but, few the size of the Great Bath here. Romans would usually bathe in one hot room or pool, then another slightly cooler after another. They would then finish with an invigorating plunge in the largest, coldest, pool available.
However, in Bath there was just so much hot water available from the hot springs. So the Great Bath could be and was made extremely large indeed. This meant the Romans might have actually swum around in the hot waters here. This makes the Great Bath and the possible activities in it quite unique.
Temple of Sulis Minerva Discovered
Adjacent to the springs, excavations have uncovered a temple to the local goddess of these hot springs, Sulis Minerva. The Celts called her Sulis, The Romans nearest equivalent was Minerva Medica, goddess of medicine and doctors. So the compounded name was created for her alone.
She was recorded as a goddess of both healing and one to help curse your enemies. So the Romans would pray to her to help cure their ailments and curse people who troubled them. Then they would take a divine plunge into the hot sacred strings ensuring either or both came to be.
Roman thinking about this place was logical but, somewhat unscientific. Aquae Sulis means "the waters of Sulis". So, they thought this hot water to be from the goddess. After all a constant flow of hot water coming from underground must come from somewhere. If you can’t explain it, it must be the work of a local goddess.
The Romans Left Bath but, Its' Reputation Lives On
The therapeutic qualities of the waters here were by no means forgotten after the Romans went home. There have been many noble and royal visits to take the waters here over many years. Notably, there is evidence of Charles II visiting in 1677 and James II visited in 1687. However, following a visit by Queen Anne in 1702, people flocked to the City. So many people came and continued to come that near by Assembly Rooms where built to entertain them. Cards and other games of chance were played there making and breaking nobles fortunes.
- Charlton, S. original pictures and article 2004
- Kevin Ireson pictures, author and editor (2004 – today)
- Norwich, J. (2002) Treasures of Britain, Maidenhead, Everyman Publishers plc.
- Forsyth, M. (2003) Bath, New Haven & London, Yale University Press.
- Cunliffe, B. (1995) Book of Roman Baths London, B.T. Batsford.