Aquae Sulis, or the waters of the Goddess, is the old name for the Roman town of Bath. Named for the natural hot springs, it was a sacred place before the Romans came, dedicated to the Goddess Sulis. The Romans identified Sulis with their own goddess, Minerva and, stuck in a cold country far from home, were thrilled to find a place where they could bathe in the warm waters they were accustomed to, and so built a magnificent bath and temple complex around the springs.
After the Romans left the complex fell into decay, the temple torn down by Christians. The baths remained, though the ground level rose, hiding much of the original Roman remains from view. However, in the 18th century, the baths were excavated and restored to their original ground level. A new complex of buildings, including the famous Pump Room, rose around the ancient ruins, as Bath became a fashionable place to ‘take the waters.’
The whole city is now designated a World Heritage Site, and the Baths themselves are a Unesco Memory Of The World. While the Roman baths are no longer open for bathing, you can still experience in the mineral rich waters in a new bathing centre close to the original baths, which includes a rooftop pool where you can watch the sun rise (or set) over the ancient town.
We visited the Roman Baths on a glorious sunny day, the golden stone and green water glowing in the bright light. The statues around the top of the baths complex are more modern additions, sculpted in the 19th century, but work very well, I think. Inside the complex there is a fascinating museum, where you can see artifacts from the Roman past, including the original temple steps, still in situ. The old Roman drains are there too, coated with minerals from the water which still flows through.
And then there is the main bath itself, still a tranquil space after so many years. Apparently bathing here was mixed, the Romans not subscribing to our more modern levels of prudery. The excellent Bill Bryson is one of the commentors on the audio guide and speculates as to what might have gone on in the alcoves and among the pillars, so close to a place of worship. Pleasures of the flesh and of the spirit were not kept separate in those days.
Although a sign warned us not to, I did dip my fingers in the water. (To be fair, I didn’t see the sign till afterwards – apparently the water is untreated and so considered not safe). And what was it like? It was soft against my fingers, and felt luke warm rather than hot, with a slightly sulphuric odour. We did get to drink some of the water as well, a tap offering a treated version at the end of our tour. Again, it was warm, and tasted of sulphur and metal – I suppose it was good for me!
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Baths, as it’s been on my list of places to visit for a very long time. I hope you enjoyed coming on this Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!
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