in this town near london, there is a large pool, made of stone, with an intricate gutter system that ensured the water is always fresh and clean. with numerous alcoves, strong stone carved pillars, huge pillars, statues of roman soldiers lining the terrace, the sky reflecting in the green water, heated saunas with stone steps along the side, separate pools for dips and separate for therapy, the builders of this 2000 year old bath had thought through it all.
welcome to the baths at bath!
public baths were a big thing in those times.
the roman baths were not discovered until the late nineteenth century, while the city of bath was getting constructed all over and all around the ancient structures below. from the entrance to the exit as you walk through you realise how big this place was. and how much of it under modern structures. when i hear of entire civilizations under other civilizations it makes sense, as here this exists in front of me – two civilisations, one built on top of the other. as you stand around the bath and look up to the sky, glimpses of the current city of bath peers over you… way above your head… cities built over cities…
it got me wondering why there were such large public baths, didn’t they want to bathe in their own houses?
(so based on some online research) in those times, houses had lead pipes that brought the water. but the people were taxed as per the size of the pipe, thus everyone preferred to get water just for basic chores, but never to rival a public bath complex.
these bath complexes seemed to be at the heart of the social structure of the romans… these were not just for bathing, but involved an elaborate routine starting from a sauna, to a scrubbing or cleansing ritual, ending by a plunge in cold water. there were also exercise areas, a salon and overall body grooming. some bath complexes had libraries, gardens, even ‘fast food’… some baths were huge and could accomodate 1500 people at one go!
for ancient romans these areas were the ‘adda’, that place to catch up with other people, gossip… initially women and men were allowed to use the baths AND at the same time, then slots were demarcated…
while traveling to places of historical relevance, i find myself wishing i could go back to those times. swish around in the dresses of those days, with my hair all done up, walk and talk with the people and experience the place through living in it, and not just passing by with my short attention span and distracted gaze.