Bath time!

In the afternoon we extended our bus tour to the town of Bath, which sits about 100 miles southwest of London in the ceremonial county of Somerset. The city was first established as a Roman outpost known as Aqua Sulis — because of the naturally-heated spring waters that emerge there. (Whoo hoo! Hot springs!) The Romans built a fairly large town, including a bath house and temple to the goddess Minerva.

The entrance to the Roman Baths.

In 1668 Dr Thomas Guidott moved to Bath to set up a medical practice. He wrote an article about the healing waters that smelled of sulphur, and soon the hordes were descending on the small town of Bath of partake of the cure for various ailments.  During construction to accommodate the many new visitors, the Victorians stumbled on the ruins of the Roman town. They were entranced with the idea of the Roman Baths, and tried to restore them. Unfortunately they romanticized a great deal, and what exists today is kind of a Roman/Victorian hybrid. It makes for an interesting tour, seeing such two disparate layers of history intertwined!

The Roman Baths, as interpreted by Victorian society.

The bathing area was original to the Roman ruins, but the columns, upper deck, and Romanesque statuary were added throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The combination is charming, as you can see from the many, many tourists crammed in to the site.

I think that this particular statue looks exactly like Julius Caesar from the comic series Asterix and Obelix!

This brave little duck was swimming in the water. I wasn’t entirely sure about his health at first, but then he started swimming around just fine. Perhaps he was “taking the cure” … ?

The water is quite warm, if a bit smelly. Today you can purchase a bottle of water for 50p (to drink!).  The guides all recommended that you not touch the water in the pool though, since it was untreated. (Not surprisingly, so many tourists decided to ignore those directions — there is a part of me that thinks they should run a slight electrical current into the water. That would teach ’em!)

My friend Stephanie listening to the audio guide. This one was quite annoying, with various “characters” all giving insight into life during Roman times. I don’t know why an audio guide can’t be simple and effective, without all the “value added” stuff.

This was the hottest pool at the baths, and the water is also untreated. The Romans used to write out curses against people who had wronged them (usually for small things like theft of your towels from the “locker room”) and throw them into the pool. Some of the curses were inscribed on sheets of lead, which were then folded up. Most of the curses were addressed to the goddess Minerva. Some of these have been recovered and can be seen in the museum.

The attached museum was really very extensive, much more so than I’d expected, and included lots of stones and artifacts that had been recovered from the site. Unfortunately it was arranged rather haphazardly, and the crowds made it difficult to appreciate the collection.

This is the location of the true spring, deep underground. You can see the surrounding archway built by the Romans. For them, the baths were both a pleasant leisure experience as well as a religious location. The goddess Minerva was worshiped at the temple here.  The museum did an excellent job of molding itself around the existing ruins, but the lack of information (other than via audio guide), as well as the poorly flowing layout, made the experience a bit frustrating.

The entire town of Bath was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, largely due to the beautiful Georgian architecture. Almost every single building in the city was constructed or clad with Bath Stone, a lovely whitish/yellow stone that comes from the area. Any new building has to be constructed in the same way!  This results in a very uniform experience, which is rare for a city the size of Bath.

This is Pulteney Bridge, which spans the River Avon. It is one of only 3 bridges in the world to have shops located on the bridge itself (the other two are in Florence and Venice).  Below the bridge you can just see the top of the weir, which is a type of small dam that controls the overflow of the river.

Once the Romans left, the area was kind of abandoned. Bath Abbey was used to crown the Saxon king of England (Edgar) in 973 CE. It is suspected the monks from the abbey used to bath in the hot springs in the middle ages, but it wasn’t until Georgian times that Bath become the popular and picturesque town it is today.

Alex at Bath (the Abbey is in the background).


Posted on 07/04/2010, in Exploring the UK and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. THANKS !! Fascinating . . . yeah . . . Asterix et al

  2. If only you knew what happened to that poor little duck later in the day…

  3. Loved the pictures !! What did happen to the duck ?

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