One thing I couldn’t miss while visiting Bath was the Roman Baths. The city was named after them, after all. And who wouldn’t want to walk the paths the ancient Romans once did? I for one think it is astounding how some of the things they built have withstood the passing of time.
I did this tour by myself, since Jeneane wanted to hang out in the city. Since it was a self-guided tour, it worked out for the best. I grabbed one of the offered audio tours and set off to learn about the history of the Romans in Bath. It was funny, I kept getting flashbacks to my high school Latin class as I walked and listened – and I just kept thinking, “My Latin teacher would love this!”
Anyway, on to the history.
When the Romans arrived in Bath, they named it Aquae Sulis after the Celtic name for the hot spring, which was a shrine to their goddess Sulis. The Latin name translates quite simply to “the waters of Sulis.”
To help the Celts adapt to Roman culture, the Romans encouraged continued worship to the goddess and merged her with one of their own that closely resembled her: Minerva (that’s Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, if anyone doesn’t know). The new goddess was called Sulis Minerva, and she was a goddess of healing.
The Baths were a social, religious and medical center of the town. People came to “take the waters” to cure all types of illnesses, to relax and visit, to clean themselves, and to pray to the goddess. The site was actually quite large. Today most of what is left of the baths is below ground level and underneath the modern streets and buildings. So as I walked through the remains, I was actually walking underneath the busy Bath streets.
Apart from the Great Bath, there was a series of rooms that housed changing areas (apodyterium), a cold plunge bath (frigidarium), a hot bath or sauna (caldarium), and an exercise room. The rooms, such as the caldarium were heated using a hypocaust, the Roman heating system. The floors in these rooms were raised up on pillars (the remains of which I could see on my tour) and spaces were left in the walls and floors, letting hot air and smoke from the furnace below pass through them and them out of flues in the roof. This kept the rooms warm and free of smoke. The rooms that needed to be kept the warmest were built closest to the furnace. The temperature could be increased by adding more wood to the furnace fires. I was pretty impressed. The whole thing was rather ingenious.
Along with the baths themselves, there would have been a temple and courtyard where people could worship the goddess. It was a common custom to give offerings to the goddess (thousands of coins have been recovered from the spring). People also asked the goddess for things (most often revenge on someone who wronged them) by writing their requests on lead tablets and throwing them into the spring, probably with a sacrifice or offering. Around 130 of these “curse tablets” have been found by archaeologists. Amusingly, the most grievous or most expensive crime reported on one of the tablets was the theft of six silver coins.
Though you can’t really tell in the photographs, you could actually see the water bubbling and steaming. It was neat. It was also impressive to see the Roman drains and overflow system still in use.
When I finally came to the end of my tour, there was a fountain where you could taste the waters of the Bath (purified, of course – no, I did not drink the green water, people) so naturally, I had to try it. I was secretly hoping for a miracle cure for the cold and cough I had developed. The water, not surprisingly, had a mineral taste and was warm, making it a bit unpleasant to drink, but I drank it anyway. Unfortunately, I was not blessed with a miracle cure. -_-
I ended up spending about one and a half to two hours walking through the Baths, and then of course, I stopped in the gift shop upstairs. It was there I found the perfect gift for my youngest brother (Bo – he specifically asked me to find him “something cool” in England). I got him a wooden gladiator sword (which was actually pretty well made). I was so excited to have finally found something for him (it was getting near to the end of my trip) that I had to show it to my boyfriend when I called him on Skype that night – then he was jealous and wanted one too, so I had to go back the next day to get him one. Haha!
I definitely recommend stopping by for a visit if anyone is ever in Bath. The Roman Baths are certainly a sight worth seeing. (Not to mention you can buy cool wooden gladiator swords in their gift shop!)