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.