Tuesday, 26 August 2008
The Roman Baths
I am starting "at the beginning" , historically speaking ,with my stay in Bath over the holidays . I really wonder why we've never visited before ; it's a place rich with the multi-facets of historical past civilisation , endlessly fascinating vistas , a delight for history buffs - particularly those with a penchant for Jane Austen !
We decided to begin our 2 day tour at the Roman Baths , which is an outstanding museum right in the heart of the city , crouched in the shadow of the cathedral towering above it . The waters (in these pictures) arrive and leave by the same , efficient Roman conduits which have been doing the job for nearly 2000 years ! Long before Bath became known in Georgian times for the healing mineral waters , the Romans had built a huge complex of treatment rooms together with a magnificent temple dedicated to Aquae Sulis ; the giver of the only naturally occurring hot springs in the UK .
The museum cleverly weaves a route in and around these original rooms ; here can be seen the bathing pool , the caldarium , tepidarium , and great pediment of the original ancient temple ,as first excavated in the late eighteenth century . Such classical history was a great draw to the Georgians and crowds flocked to view them . As you pass around the baths even as a modern visitor you cannot help but marvel at them ! Steam rises from the pools , surrounded by the original Roman pillar bases and steps - the paving stones worn smooth in antiquity .
(View of the Regency Bath House ; circular window is the adjoining Pump Room)
The water level was actually much higher during the Regency period ; as the water is unusually rich in iron it has left an orange mineral mark behind . My husband and son both dipped their hands in the narrow inset Roman channel filling the main bath , and it really is very warm ! Bubbles actually rise up to the surface in the room pictured above .
(Roman spring entry)
What I found enthralling was the palpable sense of such similar people to ourselves ; separated only by a time-line. There are lots of artefacts to see ; some in situ , such as the beautiful mosaic floor fragments , pillars and stonework , and also cases of precious coins (apparently it wasn't unusual for a soldier to throw a month's salary in to the water as an offering !) , combs and jewellery . This is still somehow a spiritual place with a tranquility that reaches through time .
Above , is the only surviving piece of a huge bronze statue of Minerva , which you can walk around in its glass case . At the back of her head are tiny little holes in the rim , indicating that she must have originally worn a tall centurion helmet - as she would normally have been depicted - I'm certain she was an awe-inspiring sight !
(Mosaic depicting sea creatures)
(Roman deity from the Great Pediment at the temple entrance , with snake hair - Minerva was traditionally associated with Gorgons)
Some of the adjoining "treatment rooms" have quite low levels of light ; a fact which has been exploited to best advantage by the introduction of projected images on the walls in the Tepidarium (a cold plunge pool) The bottom of this pool twinkles from all the coins which have been thrown in ; something my son wanted to do too - he threw his coin in a glittering arc before it sunk right in the middle with a satisfying ploomp !
Tantalisingly there is probably the same area again (at least) hiding its Roman wonders under the buildings surrounding the Bath House , undiscovered , patiently waiting .
My son summed up our tour when he whispered as we walked round " Everybody should come here at least once in their life ."
Indeed they should .