"Aunt Ursula says she will bathe every day at eight o''clock and the sedan chairman charge excessively although they only have to carry her a short way. I have to agree with Papa that the water tastes unaccountably horrid, one supposes it is doing one good.."
The Diary of Sophie Carey, 1726
I bent down and dipped my hand into the Great Bath, and to my surprise the green waters were wonderfully warm....
The milky emerald water of this ancient Roman pool comes from far underground. Aeons ago a lake of water got trapped in a sub-surface bubble and one of it''s few escape arteries emerges in Bath. And the Roman Bath''s are the best reason to visit this lovely city. They dominate the city, and were once the primary focus for the city when English society came to take the cure. A visit to the Bath''s takes you back in time not only to the time of Jane Austen and Beau Nash, but further back when the centurions and legionnaires of Rome''s vast empire relaxed in the therapeutic waters.
And I did have a few Roman moments when I wandered around the Bath''s. A couple of times I could have been back in the Italian capital. Maybe it was the gurgling of two thousand year old pipes, the carvings on ex-temple altars or the sight of the King''s Bath waters bubbling away like cinema screen special effects. When you visit here you visit one of the most well-preserved Roman ruins in northern Europe. There were springs here over two thousand years ago, the nearby Celtic tribes discovered them long before the Romans. To them they were places of great mystery, the abode of pagan gods and spirits. It was the Romans who turned them into brick and marble and they became an attraction for each Roman who was stationed here. They appreciated the reminder of sunny Italia in the savage blustery island province of Britannia. A temple to Minerva was built near the Bath complex and sacrifices were made to the goddess Aquae Sulis.
After the Romans left Britannia the Baths fell into disrepair. During the dark ages the buildings still stood and the green pools still bubbled. To the superstitious Saxons and Danes they were a place of dark magic and avoided at all costs. While during the middle ages monks from nearby Bath Abbey used them to cure people of ailments and diseases. Their reputation as a pilgrimige site continued but it wasn''t until 1704 that they really became fashionable. Lone ruler Queen Anne came to take the Baths and with royal approval their reputation and trendiness spread. In the 18th Century it certainly was ''chi-chi'' to take the Baths and anyone who was anyone came down here. When Jane Austen visited in 1805 the fashionability of Bath had declined and it became a backwater again. Until rescued in the 20th century by mass tourism.
And you will meet alot of tourists at the Roman Baths. It is the busiest fee paying attraction in Britain outside London and most tourists when they arrive head to the centre of town where it stands. They lie just under the Abbey''s shadow and the entire complex not only contains the King''s and Great Bath''s but also the elegant ''Pump Room'' as well. It is often this room that you may have to move through to get to the entrance to the Bath''s. Admittance to the Roman Baths is £8.00 and the best way of exploring is with a free audioguide. As you move along the exhibts, punch in a number into the audioguide and you will get an expert explanation. There are also free guided tours, every hour on the hour.
Once you have your audioguide you are ready to step onto the Terrace and take your first look at the bath''s.
A glance at the ''Great Bath'' and you will catch your breath. A great bubbling green pool of water will be directly below you. Surrounding it will be a yellow cracked marble landing with crumbling steps. The landing is littered with column''s, carvings and enscriptions while caramel columns hold up a viewing terrace (see photo). You will move around the terrace and as you do crumbling lichen covered statues of Roman generals line it''s sides overlooking the water. But the best part is the nearness of the steeple of Bath Abbey. It looms over the baths, almost within touching distance, and looks magnificent set against the golden colour of the Baths and the clear blue sky.
From there you move into the museum. The bath''s were not just for relaxation they were also a shrine to a Roman goddess and housed the Roman temple to Minerva.The Pediment of the Temple had some superb carvings - pieces of the temple had been found in the ruins including a rather scary gorgons head. The altar of the temple had been propping up a Norman church in nearby Maiden Bradley. And the theory about the Romans thinking the world was flat is debatable on this pediment as a carved globe of the earth is clearly visible. Then you move down to the underground temple precinct. Cracked enormous flagstones covered this area and Roman columns could be seen on their side. Pride of place went to a statue of Minerva found in the ruins. Two thousand years old it may be but this statue of the goddess consisted of the head of a very beautiful woman. Despite it''s ancient age it sparkled as the light bounced off her golden but very attractive face.
From there you follow the trail into the organs of the Baths. Magnificent Roman statuary overlooked what could only be discribed as an ''overflow pipe''. It was still taking excess water away from the Great Bath as it had done since the time of Christ. One of the springs that the Bath''s get their hot water from was not far away and looked scarlet as it poured from the ground. The heat and humidity from this water hit you before you approached and people had thrown little coins into it''s bowel. Then it was back to a ground level look at the Great Bath. Here you can stoop down to touch the warm water before moving into the ''East Rooms''. These contained the relaxation and health rooms and saunas. Unbelievably, the ''tepid'' pool was still there and fed by luke-warm water. This was where both men and women came to bathe. Gambling was a big vice here with dice and cards played on it''s tiles, while massages were performed by special slaves.
Beyond are the biggest sauna''s you have seen in your life. And then you are climbing up to the smaller Kings Bath. This bath is nearer the source of the spring then any other and you watch bubbles pop and burst on it''s green surface. There is something mysterious about this bath. It is surrounded by medieval cloisters where monks would bring the sick to be immersed. And of course it is the abode of the goddess of the spring - Aquae Sulis.
Maybe she still lives there? As you look down into the bubbling water you can almost believe that to be true.