Roman Baths

The Roman Baths are a well-preserved Roman sacred site in the English city of Bath. The site includes the remains of the Temple of Aquae Sulis, the Roman baths fed by the sacred hot spring, and a well-presented museum of artifacts found at the site.

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History of the Roman Baths

The fundamental part of the Roman Baths is the sacred spring. Hot water at a temperature of 460°C rises here at the rate of 1,170,000 liters (240,000 gallons) every day and has been doing so for thousands of years. To the ancients, this remarkable phenomenon could only be the work of the gods.

The first shrine at the springs in Bath was built by the Celts, and dedicated to the goddess Sulis. After the Roman invasion, Sulis was identified with the Roman goddess Minerva, but the name Sulis continued to be used. This led to the town's ancient Roman name of Aquae Sulis ("waters of Sulis").

During the Roman occupation of Britain, increasingly grand temples and bathing complexes were built. The bath complex in Bath was founded in 75 AD. The healing powers of the goddess and the mineral-rich water from the spring attracted visitors from across the Roman Empire.

After the Roman withdrawal the baths fell into disrepair and were eventually lost due to silting up. When bathing again became fashionable in England, the site was reopened. The magnificent Georgian building now standing was erected at the end of the 18th century.

The ancient Roman Baths were rediscovered and excavated in the late 18th century. As well as being an important archaeological find, they have from that time to the present been one of the city's main attractions.

What to See at the Roman Baths

The Roman Baths are unsafe for bathing because the water has passed through the still-functioning lead pipes constructed by the Romans. However, the luxurious new Thermae Spa, which opened in September 2004, allows modern-day bathers to experience the waters for themselves.

The Roman Baths are below the street level of modern Bath and other Roman ruins stretch out beneath the city in all directions. The site consists of four main features: the Sacred Spring; the Roman Temple; the Roman bath house; and finds from Roman Bath.

The Sacred Spring, at the northwest corner of the baths, now feeds a pool known as the King's Bath, constructed in the 12th century. This is surrounded by a two-level Georgian building dating from the 18th century.

The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath is one of only two classical temples known from Roman Britain. The temple was built to house the cult statue of the goddess Sulis Minerva, the gilt-bronze head of this statue is on display in the museum.

The great ornamental pediment from the temple has been re-erected in the museum and carries an image of a bearded face carved in local Bath stone. This is the Gorgon’s head, a symbol of Minerva that also resembles other water gods like Oceanus and Neptune. Its sun-like appearance may represent the heat of the sacred spring.The Gorgon is encircled by surrounded by wreaths of leaves and surrounded by winged victories. The owl and the helmet at the bottom of the pediment symbolize Minerva's responsibility for wisdom and war.

The Roman Baths Museum contains many objects of interest, including thousands of objects thrown into the spring as offerings to the goddess. These offerings include:

Try a sip of the hot mineral spring water in the Pump Room's fountain - it tastes truly awful, but has long been believed to have healing powers!

Quick Facts on the Roman Baths

Site Information
Names:Roman Baths
Country:England
Categories:temples; baths; roman museums; megalithic monuments; hot springs
Dedication: Sulis Minerva
Status: ruins
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:51.380972° N, 2.359491° W
Address:York St
Bath, England
BA1 1LZ
Phone:01225/477785
Email:romanbaths_inquiries@bathnes.gov.uk
Website:www.romanbaths.co.uk
Hours:Mar-Jun, Sep, Oct: daily 9am-6pm
Jul-Aug: daily 9am-10pm
Nov-Feb: daily 9:30am-5:30pm
Last admission 1 hour before closing.
Lodging:View hotels near the Roman Baths
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Personal visit (October 2, 2005).
  2. The Official Roman Baths Museum Web Site
  3. The Pump Room & Roman Baths– Frommer's Attraction Review
  4. Roman Baths – Fodor's Online Travel Guide
  5. Bathing Beauty – Sydney Morning Herald, August 8, 2004.

More Information

Bath Abbey from the upper gallery of the Roman Baths. © Holly Hayes
The Roman Baths, with a view of Bath Abbey next door. © Holly Hayes
The Great Bath, with 12th-century pool and 18th-century buildings. © Holly Hayes
The pool of the Great Bath, heated by the ancient Sacred Spring. © Holly Hayes
Northwest corner of the Great Bath, where the hot springs enter the pool. © Holly Hayes
Model of the Bath temple complex in the 4th century. © Holly Hayes
Pediment fragments from the Temple of Sulis Minerva. © Holly Hayes
Gorgon's Head on the temple pediment, representing Minerva. © Holly Hayes
Remains of the temple steps. © Holly Hayes
Bust of Luna, the moon goddess, from another temple building. © Holly Hayes

Map of the Roman Baths

Below is a location map and aerial view of the Roman Baths. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.