Recently, I was lucky enough to enjoy one of the most visited historical monuments in England: the Roman Baths of Bath.
The two hours that, as we had read, used to last the visit, ended up becoming short and I stayed a while longer. If you’re a lover of history – “bad” that I’ve been suffering from since I was 9 or 10 years old – you’ll enjoy visiting the Roman Baths of Bath like a child.
History of the Roman Baths of Bath
If, as happened to me, you don’t have time to document yourself before entering the Roman baths of Bath, don’t worry because the audio-guide given to you at the entrance has an enormous amount of historical, archaeological and religious information.
Before the arrival of the Romans, the region where Bath now stands was inhabited by the Doguni tribe. The Doguni owned ships and traded with the rest of England and part of Europe. Perhaps this is how the new healing power of the mineral waters flowing from underground sources in Bath came into being.
When the Romans conquered Bath – a city they called Aquae Sulis – they decided to build an enormous enclosure that would take advantage of the thermal waters and serve both as a place of relaxation, healing and relaxation, and as a temple to worship the goddess Sulis Minerva (the Romans kept the Celtic name of Sulis in its equivalent of Minerva, goddess of wisdom, military strategy and the arts, in addition to being patroness of Rome and artisans).
They did it in the middle of the 1st century and it would remain in operation until the 4th century.
After the loss of Roman rule, the barbarians occupied this area and destroyed the thermal baths, which were buried under the different layers of the new settlements.
In the 12th century, Juan de Tours built a building with curative waters in the same fountain of the spring that supplied the old Roman thermal baths. As early as the 16th century, the Bath authorities built new baths (Queen´s Bath) south of the spring.
In the 18th century the spring waters were re-routed to the Great Pump Room. It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that the ancient Roman thermal baths and temple were discovered, a discovery that would eventually bring to light the most astonishing Roman archaeological site in the United Kingdom.
Visit to the Roman Baths of Bath
The Roman baths of Bath are located in the centre of this city, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
We took advantage of the fact that the sun greeted us that morning – nothing simple on a day in early March – to see the centre of Bath, including its Pulteney bridge, with the air of a Venetian bridge corroborated by a famous pub on its left bank: the “Ponte Vecchio”.
Walking along the waters of the Avon River, we reach the height of Bath Abbey and head towards the beautiful historic centre of the city.
It was Saturday, and the streets were full of life. Street artists, full shops, food stalls, hundreds of people walking up and down… And among all that, the entrance to the Roman Baths of Bath, with that fronton of timeless air that anticipates what you will find inside.
After a quick queue, we pay the entrance fee and, after collecting the audio guide, we begin to discover this wonderful historical monument.
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The visit to the Roman Baths of Bath is usually divided into different areas or blocks:
As we saw that we had missed the opportunity to sign up for the free tour that is organized every hour, we decided to do it on our own. I must admit that rarely have I been able to enjoy an audio guide with such complete, numerous and interesting explanations as that of the Roman Baths of Bath.
From the ticket office, a door led me to the terrace from where you can see, down there, the Great Bathroom. It is the first image you have of the bathrooms and it impregnates you with an air of majesty, supported by the large Roman statues that surround the terrace. Do not be confused, for they are not millennia old. In fact, they were sculpted at the end of the 19th century, for the celebration of the great opening to the public of the thermal baths.
In addition, on the other side of the enclosure wall was the majestic tower of Bath Abbey.
Meet the Romans
After taking a walk on the terrace, I took some stairs down to a very interesting exhibition, which helps you learn about the life of the Romans who lived in Bath almost two millennia ago.
Seeing these objects extracted from the various archaeological sites found in Bath, and listening to the full explanations of the audio guide I began my true journey to Roman times. Lighting, intimate and pleasant, also helps this journey through time.
This is how I learned about the life of Iulus Vitalis, a blacksmith of the Roman armies that settled in Aquae Sulis (the name given to Bath by the Romans). A hologram showed a blacksmith doing his job, all next to the original tombstone of Iulius’ tomb.
Next to him, a nice model of the bathrooms and the temple gave me a perfect idea of what the place was like at its foundation.
Beyond that, the coins of a treasure trove of some 17,000 Roman coins from different eras were on display after being found in eight bags.
Utensils of all kinds, the bones of a former resident, projections of scenes from the day to day of the Roman Bath …are just some of the other interesting things you will find in this area of the thermal baths.
After passing through an area that exhibits some of the engraved rocks that are still preserved from the original pediment of the temple in this complex, you enter the area dedicated to the Roman religiosity of the time.
Here they remind you that both the baths and the temple were dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva. All this while walking through an area where you can admire the altars where they used to make sacrifices to the goddess.
Courtyard and temple of Minerva
For me, a hardened lover of history, it was an unforgettable experience to walk through the same courtyard through which the Roman faithful must have passed two thousand years ago. The scrolls on which the people wrote the curses they expected the goddess to infringe on those neighbors who had stolen from them or done something that had done them wrong are kept in showcases. In other words, the goddess was not only a protector, but was also expected to punish enemies.
There are also three large Frisian stones from a large curved temple in the courtyard. He’s the only one of his kind known in Roman Britannia.
I found the colophon of this area in the shape of the bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva. It dates from the first century of our era and is, in itself, a strange piece, as there are only two other fragments of Roman bronze sculptures throughout England.
The secret stream
The road descended further to meet me with the secret brook. The water’s still flowing here at 46 degrees. No less than 1.17 million litres a day. The hot steam rises from the pool into which it falls. A good place to warm up your hands a little.
Next to it, some of the objects found in the stream are exhibited.
The Great Bathroom and the adjacent baths
And I finally got to the most important room in the compound. In ancient times, the Great Bath was roofed (40 meters high), but today it is outdoors.
The pool is filled with natural thermal water and has a depth of 1.6 meters. A few low benches surround the Great Bath and on them sat the bathers to enjoy some drinks and food.
The area was full and many visitors took the opportunity to sit on those historic benches to rest a little after more than an hour of visiting. I also did it and I stayed resting in the sun while I did one of the mental exercises that I like to practice when I visit historical monuments: trying to imagine the place at its peak. I didn’t find it difficult with all the material I had absorbed during the visit.
After regaining strength, I researched the east and west wing baths. A smaller pool – used for swimming – was opened, covered, next to the changing rooms and massage parlors. Saunas, boiler room and other smaller pools were located in the west zone.
Before leaving the site, I had the opportunity to taste the mineral water flowing through the complex. Mana of a faucet placed at the end of the route and it is said that this liquid has healing properties.
The truth is that I haven’t noticed anything since I drank that water, but I feel more than rewarded with this special experience that Bath offered me.
Practical information for visiting the Roman Baths of Bath
January to February, November and December: 9.30 to 5pm (departure at 6pm); 1 March to 8 April, September and October: 9 to 5pm (departure at 6pm); 19 to 22 April: 9 to 7pm (departure at 8pm); 23 April to 20 June: 9 to 5 (departure at 6am)21 June to 31 August: 9 to 9pm (departure at 10am).
Ticket price: between 14.40 and 19.80 GBP.
Audioguide languages available:
Twelve different languages, including Spanish.
How to get there:
It is located in the heart of the city. The best way is to walk.
Location:Stall Street, Bath BA1 1LZ, United Kingdom
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