Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.
I went on a touristing trip to Bath last weekend with a German guy I met over here, Tobi.
Bath is attractive town with a very long history.
The Romans took control of the area something like 2000 years ago, and there is evidence of it being a popular place long before then (as far back as stone age flints – some 7000 years).
Bath is the site of three hot springs, seen as a gift from some god or another by several civilisations through the centuries, these days we rather boringly see it as a place where heated water is pushed up from the mantle along a fault line. Before the Romans came along it would have appeared as just a few hot billabongs near a river, unsettled because the valley is flooded every year. The Romans were not daunted by mere flooding, they built an encircling wall to keep the waters out and on the site of the largest spring built a public bath and a temple to the goddess Minerva (later Sulis Minerva, taking the name of the local god who was previously worshipped there – a PR stunt on the part of the Romans).
For centuries the Romans and the locals bathed and worshipped at the site. They oiled up in the saunas to get clean, they had several degrees of sauna and you started off in the cooler one and worked your way up to the ones that were too hot to stand in without shoes. After their oil treatment they had a good rinse in one of the smaller baths near the saunas before finally hitting the main bath. There were strictly adhered to guidelines on bath etiquette!
They prayed and sacrificed to their gods, using the altars at the temple provided for this purpose and also tossing valuable trinkets into the main spring. They wished ill upon those who had wronged them! Writing curses on sheets of tin which they then rolled up and threw into the spring hoping that Minerva would execute their curse upon the deserving wrongdoer (the cursers went as far as providing the names of those who they felt might be responsible, trying to make Minerva’s job easier I guess).
Eventually the Roman empire went into decline, Romans left their conquered lands including their beautiful Bath and through time the Roman structures were part demolished and buried by the eroding winds of civilisation. By the 1700s the entire Roman history of the area was forgotten until in 1775 the town engineer had to work out why someone’s basement was flooding with warm water, his men dug down and eventually reached the 6 inch thick sheet Romans and lined the main bath with. Not long after the town council had bought all the houses above the site and the excavation started.
There was much enthusiasm for the baths (the town had never stopped being a bath town) and the site was rebuilt and brought back into service. New structures were built around the bath complex, in what they considered to be a Roman style, so they could partake of some Roman decadence. It became popular with Royals and thus all the Royal hangers-on had to go there too and the town exploded in size. Many a distinguished person “took the waters” at bath in the hope of some healing for soul or body, or often just to partake in some extra-marital shenanigans.
Much of the current architecture of Bath was designed in the Georgian and Victorian periods, predominately by the famous John Wood and his son (John Wood the Younger) during the 1700s. Before the redevelopment in Georgian times the site was a row of houses, and prior to that the grounds of a monastery – the beautiful and imposing Abbey of the monastery still stands adjacent to the baths (it is actually on top of the site where the Minerva’s temple was located). There are plenty of other attractions in Bath that are worth a good look, just walking around and taking in the architecture is worthwhile, there is the historical costume museum and the Jane Austen museum is located in one of the houses in which she lived. The site of the bath its self is now a museum and will cost you 10GBP to visit, but it was worth it. Unfortunately bathing is strictly prohibited!
There is a spa house nearby that is nearing completion and is scheduled to open some time this year. Somehow I don’t think it will be quite the same thing.
I took a few photos of Bath of course.