Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Roman Baths, Bath

Bath in Somerset, England, contains one of the best paradigms of a Roman bath complex in Europe. As the Romans advanced west in England, building the Fosse Way as they went, they crossed the River Avon. Near here they found a hot water spring. It brought over one million litres of hot water to the surface every day at a temperature of about 48 degrees centigrade. 

They built a reservoir in order to control the water flow, baths and a temple; hence the town of Bath quickly grew around this complex. This was one of the tallest buildings in Roman Britain and the roof was 20 metres above the bath. Roman visitors would have been amazed by its high ceiling. 

The waters at Bath gained a reputation as being able to cure all ills; due to this countless travelled all around the Roman Empire to reach Bath and dive into the healing waters. Bath was called Aquae Sulis and Aquae Calidae, meaning 'hot waters'. 

On top of the main swimming bath there are a number of statues showing Roman governors of the province of Britannia, the name given to Britain by the Romans, and Roman emperors with particular connections to Britain, including Julius Caesar, Claudius, Vespasian, Hadrian and Constantine the Great (first emperor of the Byzantine Empire and founder of Constantinople). Also a statue depicting the Head of Roma symbolises the spirit of Rome. 

Many have written about these wonderful and ancient springs, explaining: "In Britain are hot springs adorned with sumptuous splendour; Minerva is patron goddess of these" (Solinus, 3rd century AD). "We...erect altars at places where great streams burst suddenly from hidden sources; we honour springs of hot water as divine" (Seneca, Epistulae Morales 41.3, 1st century AD). 

The Romans threw offerings into the hot Sacred Spring, believing the gods would favour them. From the Romans we today continue this unwritten tradition of throwing coins into wishing wells, a somewhat poetic gesture in order to progress and achieve whatever we wish for. 

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