“What is bathing when you think of it? Oils, grease, sweat, filth, greasy water, everything loathsome.” When Emperor Marcus Aurelius spoke about bathing he may well have been talking about Bath’s famous Roman Baths. I had glimpsed the iconic Great Bath on visits to the city before but had never ventured in.
From the gallery above the Great Bath I looked down on the green waters surrounded by columns and statues of Roman emperors . Behind me was beautiful Bath Abbey, resplendent in the morning sunshine. The Romans built a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva in the first century here and made the most of the hot mineral springs by building a network of baths. Aquae Sulis as Bath was known, became the go to place for its famous baths as the springs were reputed to have healing powers. In Georgian times the rich and famous descended on Bath to take the waters for their health. Most of the Roman complex was excavated in the 19th century and is fascinating to wander about imagining what it must have been like in its heyday.
I really thought the Roman Baths were just the central pool seen on photos, but there’s so much more to see here. Hot water is continuously pumped from the earth today. There’s the sacred spring which produces a constant flow of water at 46 degrees celsius. 1,170,000 litres of water rise through the spring each day. The Romans used to throw objects into the sacred spring as offerings. Thousands of coins have been excavated. But there were other offerings called curses which I found the highlight of the visit. Curses were written on lead by a scribe to get the wording right (and so the goddess would not be offended). They were made when someone had a grievance about another person such as selling them mouldy bread or stealing something. Once the curse was made it was thrown into the sacred spring to the goddess. Many of these have been excavated- but how many got the punishment is anyone’s guess.
There are ruins of the old changing rooms and sauna areas where the Romans bathed before immersing themselves in the pools. I sat for a while on the edges of the great bath, imagining what it must have been like thousands of years ago when the Romans were in the city.
The spa water is still available to taste. It has to be done of course- and is an acquired taste It rminded me of acciently drinking water from the hot tap blended with minerals and was generally disgusting.
The Roman Baths are a travel icon and somewhere every tourist heads to – I loved it and in particular the world beyond the great bath, learning about everyday life and those curses.