It’s not a trip to Bath, England without visiting the place that gives the city its name. The hot spring waters of the Roman Baths are the only of their kind in Great Britain. While you can’t jump in for a dip while you’re there, you can visit and explore what is left of the baths the Romans created around the springs way back in the second century!
The entrance to the Roman Baths is quite a sight to see. I was completely in love with the high, domed ceilings and their intricately-designed reliefs and sparkling chandeliers! Both the entrance and the adjacent Pump Room are newer additions added in the 1700-1800’s. The baths themselves are located below street level and accessed by making your way through the museum.
Audio guide handsets are included in the price of admission and are offered in eight different languages. They’re about the look and size of my first cell phone in the late 90’s, and will make you look really cool as you walk through the museum. Promise. Hand-held British sign language devices are provided for the deaf and audio guides with enhanced descriptions are available for the blind. High five, Roman Baths!
The museum is full of artifacts from Aquae Sulis, what we know as modern-day Bath. The name is Latin for ‘the waters of Sulis’. Before the Romans took over, the hot springs had been a Celtic shrine dedicated to the goddess Sulis. When the Romans came, they combined their similar goddess Minerva with that of Sulis to form Sulis Minerva – a goddess that could be worshipped by both Celts and Romans visiting the springs. The temple honoring Sulis Minerva, the baths, and several private dwellings made up the small town of Aquae Sulis.
Quite a few of the original pieces of the town (including its people!) have been uncovered through the years, making for a very interesting and fairly accurate historical timeline of the city. It depends on how much of the audio tour you’d like to listen to, but I recommend allowing yourself at least an hour or more to walk through the interior portion of the museum.
After stopping at the Sacred Spring, visitors are allowed to enter the most famous portion of the museum, the Great Baths. After glancing at the above photos, you’re probably asking yourself the same questions I was, why is the water green? and why the heck did the Romans want to bathe in green water?
Because the baths are exposed to direct sunlight and there are no longer any bathers in the water to stimulate movement, perfect conditions have been created for algae to form. Back in the days of the Romans, the baths were covered, limiting the amount of sunlight that could reach the water. Most likely, the waters the Romans were bathing in were the same color as the water found in your own community pool. Nowadays the baths are routinely drained and cleaned to prevent too much build-up, but even after a good cleaning the algae forms rapidly, giving the bath water its characteristic green hue.
There is still more to see inside the Roman Baths even after you’ve left the Great Baths, like the heated rooms, and my favorite – the circular, cold-water plunge pool. The heated rooms, what we now call saunas, were level floored rooms sitting atop stacks of stone tiles which allowed for hot air to be circulated in and out to heat the floor and walls. The heated rooms were located in both the east and west baths, most likely so that men and women could be kept separate. The cold-water plunge pools were for quick dips after spending too much time in the heated rooms. (I loved the way this one sparkled!)
Before you exit the Roman Baths, make sure you grab a cup and try the spa water flowing from the spout. It’s warm and tastes absolutely disgusting, but if you’re at all superstitious, the water flowing from these springs is rumored to cure all sorts of diseases and ailments. (The Romans were convinced it did, anyway!)
So while you’d probably prefer to get your swim on at the nearby Thermae Bath Spa, the Roman Baths should still make it onto your to-do list. The baths were the only attraction in Bath that we paid to see, besides our small donation inside Bath Abbey, but I thought they were well worth the money. If you’ve got small children, there is a children’s audio guide providing a more kid-friendly experience throughout the museum. Just watch them around the Great Baths – you do not want to have to dive into that green water after them!
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