"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on September 30, 2017 by Sioux under General
2 Comments

 

A trip to Bath wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the city’s namesake – the ancient Roman Baths. Taking my usual stroll along the banks of the Avon and a slightly different route through the city, I was hoping I would get some ‘steamy water’ photos at the baths, but unfortunately due to the hot, sunny weather that wasn’t to be. It was however an extremely interesting trip.

This monumental sculpture is carved from one single block of Bath stone and forms part of the 2012 Olympic celebrations, capturing a moment in time and honouring the outstanding achievements of one of Baths finest athletes.  

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                                         The Baths themselves are below the modern                                                street level, and the water which bubbles up from                                          the ground falls as rain on the nearby hills and                                              percolates down through limestone aquifers to a                                            depth of between 2,700 and 4,300m where                                                     geothermal energy raises the temperature to                                                 between 69 and 96 °C. Under pressure, the                                                   heated water rises to the surface along fissures                                             and faults in the limestone, at a rate of

                                          1,170,000 litres each day, bubbling up into the

                                           King’s Bath; and has been doing so since the

                                          12th century!

Beneath the Kings Bath is a reservoir, built by Roman engineers, to channel the water from the main spring and two smaller springs, into the baths. The water today is at the Roman level. 

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The original Roman reservoir survives intact below the current water level.

 

The arch on the left is part of the 2nd century building.

 

The 12th century Kings bath was built within the Roman ruins.

 

The small 17th century statue is that of Bladud, mythical founder of Bath. 

The spring overflow from the bath complex; the bricks are the original ones laid down, dating back to Roman times.

The first shrine at the site of the hot springs was built by Celts, and was dedicated to the goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva. The name Sulis continued to be used after the Roman invasion, leading to the town’s Roman name of Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”). The temple was constructed in 60-70 AD and the bathing complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years.  

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Head of Sulis Minerva.

In the 2nd century the baths included the caldarium (hot bath), tepidarium (warm bath), and frigidarium (cold bath), however the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century, these fell into disrepair and were eventually lost due to silting up and flooding.

 

History suggests the original Roman baths were destroyed in the 6th century. The baths have been modified on several occasions, including the 12th century when a curative bath was built over the King’s Spring reservoir and in the 16th century when the city corporation built a The Queen’s Bath.  

In 1810 when the hot springs seemed to have failed, the Hot Bath Spring was opened up to the bottom, where it was found that the spring had not failed but had flowed into a new channel. The original course was restored, and with that an increased flow which filled the baths faster than previously. 

Heating of the rooms was done via the hypocaust heating system designed by the Romans. The floors of the bath house rooms were built on pillars, leaving a space below the floor and inside the walls. This space was filled with hot air from a furnace (called a praefurnium) which heated the room. The temperature could be increased by adding more fuel to the fire. In the hottest rooms of a bath house, bathers had to wear special sandals to protect their feet from the hot floor-tiles. 

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                              For the Roman’s, bathing was not a private                                     affair and public baths were not only for                                           washing but also for entertainment, healing or                                 simply to get clean.

 

Separate baths for men and women, people used them as a place to meet friends and spend their spare time. Large bath houses had restaurants games-rooms snack bars and even libraries. 

 

Other baths were very luxurious, and the average bath house would have mirrors covering the walls, ceilings buried in glass and the pools lined with rich marble and complicated mosaics covering the floors. 

These pillars supported the floor of a room in the bathhouse. Hot smoky air was drawn from a fire in the stokehole beneath the glazed floor and circulated around the pillars. It passed through hollow flue tiles built into the walls. The smoke from the charcoal fire escaped through small vents in the roof.  

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The thermal waters contain sodium, calcium, chloride and sulphate ions in high concentrations. The water that flows through the Baths has been declared unsafe for bathing, partly due to its having passed through the still-functioning original lead pipes, and up until World War II, was advertised as being radioactive.

 

The more significant danger is now considered to be infectious diseases. In 1978, a young swimmer belonging to a local swimming club using the restored Roman Bath contracted meningitis and died, leading to the closure of the bath for several years. Tests showed that Naegleria fowleri, an extremely dangerous disease-causing amoeba, was in the water. A nearby Spa allows modern-day bathers to experience the waters via a series of more recently drilled boreholes. 

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The museum houses artefacts from the Roman period

including objects which were thrown into the Sacred Spring,

presumably as offerings to the goddess.

 

These include more than 12,000 Roman currency coins, which is the largest collection known from Britain. A gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva, which was discovered nearby in 1727, is displayed; and about 130 curse tablets. Many of the curses are believed to relate to thefts of clothes whilst the victim was bathing. 

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An interesting morning indeed!!

 

Perhaps I will return in the colder months, to get images of the steam coming off the water; but there’s still so much else to see in other areas of the beautiful country!

The sacrificial altar was the focus for pubic worship where priests conducted ceremonies and animal sacrifices. 

This man lived and died in Bath, nearly 2 thousand years ago! The tombstone depicts him as he wished to be remembered – carrying a scroll reflecting his education and status in life.

Bath Abbey towers above the Great Bath.

Remains of the original swimming pool.

Remains of a brick arch dating back to Roman times.

Remains of a roof spine dating back to Roman times.

 

2 responses to “New roads, new adventures – exploring Bath – part 5”

  1. Cheryl Wilkinson says:

    Wow! How interesting – such geniuses!
    I just can’t imagine 1,170,000
    litres of water each day! Our Western Cape need this!

  2. Pauline Smith says:

    Wow – that is just so interesting …
    I can imagine the baths were used for other activities too (naughty…)..

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