The Spectacle of the Roman Baths

It’s the strangest feeling to be surrounded by senators and looking down on Roman baths, and probably the only time I’ll be in the company of Julius Caesar, Hadrian and Constantine the Great, simultaneously.

Aquae Sulis was the Roman name for Bath, named for the waters of the goddess Sulis.  This natural phenomenon has caused 240,000 gallons of hot water, at 46C, to rise on this spot daily for thousands of years.  Spa water has been used for curative purposes for 2,000 years, originally involving bathing, and then in the form of drinking water from the late 17th century. This Walkthrough will take you step by step through the complex.

The Roman Baths are below modern street level and comprise the Sacred Spring, Roman Temple and Bath House, with finds from the baths carefully preserved and displayed in the museum.  After the ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’ moment on the imposing terrace you descend stairs to the interior, glimpsing the Sacred Spring through glass windows.

The Romans identified Sulis with their goddess Minerva.  It is likely that her gilt bronze statue would have stood within her temple, beside the Sacred Spring, and may well date back to the first century AD.  Gilt bronze sculptures are very rare finds in Roman Britain.  This head has six layers of gilding, two by a process known as fire gilding and the later four applied as gold leaf.

The Temple pediment and Gorgon’s Head is likely to date from the same period.  It would have been supported by four large, fluted columns. Another fascinating detail of Roman life are the 130 curse tablets, which would have been rolled up and thrown into the Spring.  They were petitioning the goddess for justice or revenge for petty crimes, including theft of their possessions from the baths.

Every effort has been made to turn the Roman Baths into a Spectacle .  Animated projections bring to life the cold plunge pool and the heated rooms.  Evidence of the hypocaust system the Romans used is clearly visible in this amazing subterranean world.

The spa waters contain 43 minerals, and are said to have a distinctive taste.  You can sample them from a fountain in the west baths, or from the Georgian Pump House, next door.

Pop over and see Debbie’s extraordinary owl, and don’t forget that Thursday’s Special.  This week Paula weaves her magic on Venice.

110 comments

  1. I visited Bath ten years ago now, and I don’t remember too much about the baths. However, I don’t think there were the holograpic images to help us see what they were like in Roman times! That looks wonderful, I must return one day.

    1. It was very cleverly done. 🙂 🙂 I think that the museum must have been recently updated because much of it looked new. The baths are the star attraction though. 🙂

  2. It has been almost 20 years since I visited the Roman Baths, audio guide in hand and with no desire to try the ‘water’. Loved it, I recall walking through the baths and being very impressed by how advanced they were as a civilisation. Thanks for the trip down memory lane Jo 🙂

  3. This is a beautiful place, Jo – it actually looks magical so I could imagine why it is so revered. I don’t know if I’d drink the water though 😉

  4. Thank you for this visit to the Baths! I’ve long wanted to go – really because of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen. I’ll get there one day. Is there anywhere for today’s riff raff to get into that lovely hot water?
    Alison

    1. There is, actually, Alison, and the post I’m about to put up today has a photo. It’s a thermal spa with an open air rooftop pool. Had I known and had a bit more time I could have fancied a dip. 🙂 🙂

  5. Now that is a classic spectacle. Great post Jo. Thank you for joining. And sorry for my late visit – I was enjoying Lisbon too much to be blogging!

    WP has been giving me problems – lots of little things don’t work. And sometimes the big ones too.

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me, Debs. 🙂 I’ve just been over to yours to check if you had the pingback as I’m struggling too. I now appear as my alias Johanna Bradley instead of the restless one. Ah, well! And who can blame you for enjoying Lisbon. 🙂 🙂

  6. Beautiful photos and historical information. We were there last fall. It was so crowded, I couldn’t take good photos. Such a treat to view your photos.

  7. The water is indeed vile tasting! I’ve only been there for a corporate do many years ago and didn’t get to look properly, so this is cool, I’ll have to go again. I love the way you’ve told this honey and I think that the goddess Sulis created well too.
    Happy Friday darling, OI’m off out with Dido for a quickie before work!

    1. Great to hear from you, darlin. 🙂 🙂 Is Dido adjusting? Not a lot of choice. 😦 Big soggy hugs! It was lovely yesterday but we’re back to the damp stuff this morning.

      1. She’s doing well and is quite different especially around other dogs- doesn’t feel she has to defend her pack! I’m afraid we probably sent or rain your way yesterday but I’ll send today’s sunshine for tomorrow 🙂 have a nice day and some Devon hugs back ❤️

    1. When we were there before James was small and it was more about the river, but I was amazed by the baths, Carol. I can’t imagine how we missed seeing them, they are so central to the city. 🙂 🙂

  8. Sometimes visits are worth the tourist crush and in this case it looks like exactly the case. Amazing to imagine the scene in ancient times. Perhaps just as crowded then!

    1. I don’t think it was ever a very private place, Sue. How could I read my book in the bath with all this going on? 🙂 🙂 You’re right- amazing to see!

  9. Lovely Jo! I’ve always been curious about Bath. Sorry for the long absence! I was really sick with a bad bug and then traveling. Trying to catch up now. Hope you are well. So glad summer is almost here!

  10. I can’t say that the baths or the waters appealed to me, though I did see the thermal spa on the roof on a TV programme I think and it looked quite enticing. A great post for Paula’s traces of the past, this is pretty ancient! And I hadn’t realised that Debbie has yet another challenge on the go, how does that woman manage to post so much when she is constantly on the go? Wonder Woman!

    1. I don’t think she sleeps, Jude. 🙂 🙂 I’ve been meaning to join in for ages but there is only room for so many challenges and I sometimes think it seems disrespectful to always combine them. Do you know what I mean?
      Yes, cocktails on the roof terrace at the spa would be rather nice. I was really taken with the Baths. It’s slightly bizarre to see them, large as life, in the centre of a city. :0

      1. I used to be very dedicated to the challenges, when I started blogging they were a good way to meet people and to structure a post, but after hosting my own for a couple of years I sort of went off them. Recently having missed so many due to no wifi, being away, being ill, I’m just plodding along with my own posts. If something fits a challenge then all well and good. I do rather like Paula’s though especially the black and white one.

      2. Better today? 🙂 It’s wet here and my plans have fallen apart but I’ve still got a certain tennis player who shall be nameless to watch later on. 🙂 And I’ve just booked 5 weeks in the Algarve in October, which is always a cheer up. 🙂

  11. We didn’t get to see the spectacle when we visited but I guess that was too long ago. I probably would prefer it without the show anyway but I guess it makes it easier to understand what really happened there in ancient times. For sure Jerome would have found it more interesting as well. I tried to drink the water and wish I hadn’t…never to be tempted again!

    1. I think that so many people visit that they have tried to extend the attraction to accommodate more, Vanessa. I don’t think they have spoilt it by doing so. It is an inspiring site. Good to know I didn’t miss out with the water. 🙂 🙂

  12. Fabulous place, I am due to visit it in June with my cousins who are visiting me from Brazil. Should we book the tickets in advance or ok to buy at the door? Great photos and history detail : )

    1. You won’t be disappointed, Gilda. Have a look at the Walkthrough link. It was around 11am on a Tuesday and there were no queues, but it was pretty busy inside the museum. It might be much busier in June so I would think it worth booking. 🙂 🙂 Thanks, hon!

  13. I did not realize they’d turned it into a ‘spectacle.’Thanks for all the background. We visited almost ten years ago (and I took many of the same photos!) but certainly didn’t absorb all the detail.

    1. There was a lot of detail to absorb, Bunty, but the museum was quite busy so I focused more on the waters. The site of the spring is magnificent and I don’t think they’ve spoilt it. Obviously a lot of people want to visit. 🙂

  14. I wonder whether anything ever came from the curses. I’m surprised curious Jo did not taste the water, or did you? I wonder whether the distinctive taste is coppery or sulphury. I’m going to have to go to find out! Are you allowed to bathe in them like the Romans did? Would be too crowded and ruin the preservation of them, probably.

    1. No, you can’ t bathe in them, Liesbet, but there is a rooftop thermal spa nearby which looks superb. If I’d had time and my costume I’d have given it a whirl. 🙂 🙂 I’m told the water is absolutely disgusting, but I might have been tempted to a little elixir of life.

  15. ‘The spa waters have a distinctive taste’…. How delicately put Jo – they’re foul! Thanks for the virtual wander, a nice reminder of a place visited some years ago. What, no cake to end the trip….

    1. It’s wonderful to have something like this to share, Jill. It’s incredible to me that those waters have been rising all this time. 🙂 🙂 Thanks, darlin!

  16. Your post sent me to some early black and white photos I have of the baths. I visited here on my honeymoon as we spent 3 nights in Bath on our touring holiday. Nostalgia, how it cheers.

  17. This came just in perfect time to read with my breakfast! 😀 The Baths definitely have an aura of the older lost world. I’ve been to a couple of places that have animated projections and after my initial scepticism I feel they work very well, as seems to be the case here! Oh, not sure I’d dare to taste the water…I’ve been to the Roman Palace of Fishbourne, near Chichester which has the most spectacular mosaics in what I assumed were the bathroom and I wondered would be something similar here. Not by the looks for it. Have a lovely day, Jo! 😀

    1. If you look on the Walkthrough link, Annika, it does show some mosaics but I confess I didn’t see them. The museum area was quite busy and I preferred to be outdoors. Really, an awe inspiring site though. 🙂 🙂 I’ve been chasing rhododendrons today. Another lovely occupation. 🙂

      1. Okay…I have go ask..’chasing rhododendrons’?? I’m imagining a Day of the Triffids scenario with rhododendrons charging madly around the countryside!!😀

      2. Not quite! 🙂 🙂 Belsay Hall has an enormous quarry in the gardens and the rhodies climb the walls. I mostly stay on the ground and stare. 🙂 Good thing we went yesterday. It is extremely wet today. Drove me to booking our next Algarve flights. 🙂

    1. It really is an inspiring sight, Anna. It does suffer from tourists, as these places sadly do, but you can’t blame anyone from wanting to see it. Hugs, darlin! 🙂 🙂

  18. Sounds like you were not brave enough to sample the waters . . . if so sensible woman! I drank some years ago, didn’t manage anything more than a sip, next time I think I’ll try bathing instead.

    1. To be fair, I didn’t notice the fountain in the west bath, and I barely had time to stick my nose in the Pump House, just out of curiosity. Elixir of life? 🙂 🙂

    1. It’s an incredible place, Cindy, and I can’t believe it’s taken me all these years to get to see it. Better late than never. You would love it! 🙂 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind words.

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