Roman Baths (Bath)

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The Roman Baths
Somerset UK location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location within Somerset
General information
Town or city Bath
Country England
Coordinates 51°22′51″N2°21′34″W / 51.3809°N 2.3595°W / 51.3809; -2.3595 Coordinates: 51°22′51″N2°21′34″W / 51.3809°N 2.3595°W / 51.3809; -2.3595
Construction startedBaths — Roman
Building - 1894
Design and construction
ArchitectJohn Brydon (museum building) [1]

The Roman Baths complex is a site of historical interest in the English city of Bath. It is a well-preserved Roman site once used for public bathing.

Bath, Somerset City in Somerset, England

Bath is the largest city in the county of Somerset, England, known for its Roman-built baths. In 2011, the population was 88,859. Bath is in the valley of the River Avon, 97 miles (156 km) west of London and 11 miles (18 km) south-east of Bristol. The city became a World Heritage site in 1987.

Roman Britain part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire

Roman Britain was the area of the island of Great Britain that was governed by the Roman Empire, from 43 to 410 AD. It comprised almost the whole of England and Wales and, for a short period, southern Scotland.

Public bathing place to bathe, meet and socialize

Public baths originated from a communal need for cleanliness at a time when most people did not have access to private bathing facilities. The term "public" is not completely accurate, as some types of public baths are restricted depending on membership, gender, religious affiliation, or other reasons. As societies have changed, the need for public baths has reduced: dwellings now have their own private bathroom. Public baths have also become incorporated into the social system as meeting places. As the title suggests, public bathing does not refer only to bathing. In ancient times public bathing included saunas, massages and relaxation therapies, comparable to today's spas.


The Roman Baths themselves are below the modern street level. There are four main features: the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House, and the museum which holds finds from Roman Bath. The buildings above street level date from the 19th century.

Artifact (archaeology) Something made by humans and of archaeological interest

An artifact, or artefact, is something made or given shape by humans, such as a tool or a work of art, especially an object of archaeological interest.

Aquae Sulis town in Roman Britain on the site of Bath, England

Aquae Sulis was a small town in the Roman province of Britannia. Today it is the English city of Bath, Somerset.

The Baths are a major tourist attraction and, together with the Grand Pump Room, receive more than one million visitors a year. [2] Visitors can tour the baths and museum but cannot enter the water.

Tourism in England

Tourism plays a significant part in the economic life of England.

Grand Pump Room, Bath Grade I listed building in Bath and North East Somerset, United Kingdom

The Grand Pump Room is a historic building in the Abbey Church Yard, Bath, Somerset, England. It is adjacent to the Roman Baths and serves refreshments including water from the baths' hot springs. It has been designated as a Grade I listed building since 1950. Along with the Lower Assembly Rooms, it formed a complex where social activity was centred, and where visitors to the city gathered.

Hot spring formation

The water which bubbles up from the ground at Bath falls as rain on the nearby Mendip Hills. It percolates down through limestone aquifers to a depth of between 2,700 and 4,300 metres (8,900 and 14,100 ft) where geothermal energy raises the water temperature to between 69 and 96 °C (156.2 and 204.8 °F). Under pressure, the heated water rises to the surface along fissures and faults in the limestone. This process is similar to an enhanced geothermal system, which also makes use of the high pressures and temperatures below the earth's crust. Hot water at a temperature of 46 °C (114.8 °F) rises here at the rate of 1,170,000 litres (257,364 imp gal) every day, [3] from a geological fault (the Pennyquick fault). In 1983 a new spa water bore-hole was sunk, providing a clean and safe supply of spa water for drinking in the Pump Room. [4]

Mendip Hills Range of limestone hills to the south of Bristol and Bath in Somerset, England

The Mendip Hills is a range of limestone hills to the south of Bristol and Bath in Somerset, England. Running east to west between Weston-super-Mare and Frome, the hills overlook the Somerset Levels to the south and the Chew Valley and other tributaries of the Avon to the north. The hills give their name to the local government district of Mendip, which administers most of the area. The higher, western part of the hills, covering 198 km2 (76 sq mi) has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which gives it a level of protection comparable to a national park.

Percolation movement and filtering of fluids through porous materials

In physics, chemistry and materials science, percolation refers to the movement and filtering of fluids through porous materials. Broader applications have since been developed that cover connectivity of many systems modeled as lattices or graphs, analogous to connectivity of lattice components in the filtration problem that modulates capacity for percolation.

Aquifer Underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock

An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures or unconsolidated materials. Groundwater can be extracted using a water well. The study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization of aquifers is called hydrogeology. Related terms include aquitard, which is a bed of low permeability along an aquifer, and aquiclude, which is a solid, impermeable area underlying or overlying an aquifer. If the impermeable area overlies the aquifer, pressure could cause it to become a confined aquifer.

Reason behind use

The statue of King Bladud overlooking the King's Bath carries the date of 1699, but its inclusion in earlier pictures shows that it is much older than this. Bladud Statue at Roman Baths, Bath.jpg
The statue of King Bladud overlooking the King's Bath carries the date of 1699, but its inclusion in earlier pictures shows that it is much older than this.

Archaeological evidence indicates that the site of the baths may have been a centre of worship used by Celts; [6] the springs were dedicated to the goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva. Geoffrey of Monmouth in his largely fictional Historia Regum Britanniae describes how in 836 BC the spring was discovered by the British king Bladud who built the first Moorish baths. [7] Early in the 18th century Geoffrey's obscure legend was given great prominence as a royal endorsement of the waters' qualities, with the embellishment that the spring had cured Bladud and his herd of pigs of leprosy through wallowing in the warm mud. [8]

Celts Ethnolinguistic group

The Celts are an Indo-European ethnolinguistic group of Europe identified by their use of Celtic languages and cultural similarities. The history of pre-Celtic Europe and the exact relationship between ethnic, linguistic and cultural factors in the Celtic world remains uncertain and controversial. The exact geographic spread of the ancient Celts is disputed; in particular, the ways in which the Iron Age inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland should be regarded as Celts have become a subject of controversy. According to one theory, the common root of the Celtic languages, the Proto-Celtic language, arose in the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture of Central Europe, which flourished from around 1200 BC.

Sulis water deity

In localised Celtic polytheism practised in Great Britain, Sulis was a deity worshipped at the thermal spring of Bath. She was worshipped by the Romano-British as Sulis Minerva, whose votive objects and inscribed lead tablets suggest that she was conceived of both as a nourishing, life-giving mother goddess, and as an effective agent of curses wished by her votaries.

Roman mythology traditional stories pertaining to ancient Romes legendary origins and religious system

Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans. "Roman mythology" may also refer to the modern study of these representations, and to the subject matter as represented in the literature and art of other cultures in any period.

Roman use

The name Sulis continued to be used after the Roman invasion, leading to the town's Roman name of Aquae Sulis ("the waters of Sulis"). The temple was constructed in 60–70 AD and the bathing complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years. [9] During the Roman occupation of Britain, and possibly on the instructions of Emperor Claudius, [10] engineers drove oak piles to provide a stable foundation into the mud and surrounded the spring with an irregular stone chamber lined with lead. In the 2nd century it was enclosed within a wooden barrel-vaulted building, [6] and included the caldarium (hot bath), tepidarium (lukewarm bath), and frigidarium (cold bath). [11] After the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the first decade of the 5th century, these fell into disrepair and were eventually lost due to silting up, [12] and flooding. [13] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests the original Roman baths were destroyed in the 6th century. [14]

Roman conquest of Britain

The Roman conquest of Britain was a gradual process, beginning effectively in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius, whose general Aulus Plautius served as first governor of Roman Britain.

Caldarium room with a hot plunge in a Roman bath complex

A caldarium was a room with a hot plunge bath, used in a Roman bath complex.

Tepidarium warm bathroom of the Roman baths

The tepidarium was the warm (tepidus) bathroom of the Roman baths heated by a hypocaust or underfloor heating system. The speciality of a tepidarium is the pleasant feeling of constant radiant heat which directly affects the human body from the walls and floor.

About 130 curse tablets have been found. Many of the curses related to thefts of clothes whilst the victim was bathing. [15]


The Great Bath -- the entire structure above the level of the pillar bases is a later construction Banos Romanos, Bath, Inglaterra, 2014-08-12, DD 26.JPG
The Great Bath — the entire structure above the level of the pillar bases is a later construction

The baths have been modified on several occasions, including the 12th century, when John of Tours built a curative bath over the King's Spring reservoir, and the 16th century, when the city corporation built a new bath (Queen's Bath) to the south of the spring. [16] The spring is now housed in 18th-century buildings, designed by architects John Wood, the Elder and John Wood, the Younger, father and son. Visitors drank the waters in the Grand Pump Room, a neo-classical salon which remains in use, both for taking the waters and for social functions. Victorian expansion of the baths complex followed the neo-classical tradition established by the Woods. In 1810 the hot springs failed and William Smith opened up the Hot Bath Spring to the bottom, where he found that the spring had not failed but had flowed into a new channel. Smith restored the water to its original course. [17]

The visitor entrance is via an 1897 concert hall by J. M. Brydon. It is an eastward continuation of the Grand Pump Room, with a glass-domed centre and single-storey radiused corner. [18] The Grand Pump Room was begun in 1789 by Thomas Baldwin. He resigned in 1791 and John Palmer continued the scheme through to completion in 1799. [16] The elevation on to Abbey Church Yard has a centre piece of four engaged Corinthian columns with entablatures and pediment. It has been designated by Historic England as a grade I listed building. [19] The north colonnade was also designed by Thomas Baldwin. [20] The south colonnade is similar but had an upper floor added in the late 19th century. [21] The museum and Queen's Bath including the "Bridge" spanning York Street to the City Laundry were by Charles Edward Davis in 1889. It comprises a southward extension to the Grand Pump Room, within which some parts of the 17th-century Queen's Bath remain. [22]


The museum houses artefacts from the Roman period including objects that were thrown into the Sacred Spring, presumably as offerings to the goddess. These include more than 12,000 Roman currency coins, which is the largest collective votive deposit known from Britain. [23] A gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva, which was discovered nearby in 1727, is displayed. [24] An audio guide is available in 12 languages.

Gorgon's Head from the Temple Pediment Romanbathsgorgonhead.JPG
Gorgon's Head from the Temple Pediment

The Bath Roman Temple stood on a podium more than two metres above the surrounding courtyard, approached by a flight of steps. On the approach there were four large, fluted Corinthian columns supporting a frieze and decorated pediment above. The pediment, parts of which are displayed in the museum, is the triangular ornamental section, 26 feet (7.9 m) wide and 8 feet (2.4 m) from the apex to the bottom, [25] above the pillars on the front of the building. It featured the powerful central image of the Gorgon’s head glowering down from a height of 15 metres (49 ft) on all who approached the temple. The great head itself has snakes entwined within its beard, wings above its ears, beetling brows and a heavy moustache [26] although there is some controversy about what this really represents, as Gorgons are usually female. [27] An alternative interpretation sees the central head as the image of a water god such as Oceanus, [28] and yet another as a Celtic sun god. [11] In early 2010 various stones on the pediment were conserved and rearranged. [29]

Also on display are the remains of the elaborate hypocaust heating system, which served the sweat rooms.

In 2016 planning permission was received for a new learning centre aimed at schoolchildren and linked to the baths by a tunnel. Funding is being sought from the Heritage Lottery Fund and, if successful, it is hoped the centre will open in 2019. [30] [31]


Statues on the terrace Romanbathsstatues.JPG
Statues on the terrace

The late 19th century carvings of Roman Emperors and Governors of Roman Britain on the terrace overlooking the Great Bath are particularly susceptible to the effect of acid rain and are protected with a wash of a sacrificial shelter coat every few years. [32] Exhibits within the temple precincts are susceptible to warm air which had the effect of drawing corrosive salts out of the Roman stonework. To help reduce this, a new ventilation system was installed in 2006. [33]

In 2009 a grant of £90,000 was made to Bath and North East Somerset Council to contribute towards the cost of re-developing displays and improving access to the Roman Baths, [34] by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport/Wolfson Fund, which was established to promote improvements in Museums and Galleries in England. [35]

Water quality

Bath was charged with responsibility for the hot springs in a Royal Charter of 1591 granted by Elizabeth I. This duty has now passed to Bath and North East Somerset Council, who carry out monitoring of pressure, temperature and flow rates. The thermal waters contain sodium, calcium, chloride and sulphate ions in high concentrations. [36]

The Roman Baths are no longer used for bathing. In October 1978, a young girl swimming with the Bath Dolphins, a local swimming club, in the restored Roman Bath contracted meningitis and died, [37] leading to the closure of the bath for several years. [38] Tests showed Naegleria fowleri , a dangerous amoeba, in the water. [39] The newly constructed Thermae Bath Spa nearby, and the refurbished Cross Bath, allow modern-day bathers to experience the waters via a series of more recently drilled boreholes.

Related Research Articles

Bath and North East Somerset Non-metropolitan district in England

Bath and North East Somerset is the district of the unitary authority of Bath and North East Somerset Council that was created on 1 April 1996 following the abolition of the county of Avon. It is part of the ceremonial county of Somerset.

<i>Thermae</i> public facilities for bathing in ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, thermae and balneae were facilities for bathing. Thermae usually refers to the large imperial bath complexes, while balneae were smaller-scale facilities, public or private, that existed in great numbers throughout Rome.

Bladud Legendary king of the Britons, for whose existence there is no historical evidence

Bladud or Blaiddyd is a legendary king of the Britons, for whose existence there is no historical evidence. He is first mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, which describes him as the son of King Rud Hud Hudibras, and the tenth ruler in line from the first King, Brutus. A Bleydiud son of Caratauc is mentioned in the Welsh Harleian MS 3859 genealogies, suggesting to some that Geoffrey misinterpreted a scrap of Welsh genealogy. The Welsh form of the name is given as Blaiddyd in manuscripts of the Brut Tysilio. The meaning of the name is "Wolf-lord". In the text he is said to have founded the city of Bath. He was succeeded by his son Leir.

Thermae Bath Spa Commercial spa in Bath, Somerset

Thermae Bath Spa is a combination of the historic spa and a contemporary building in the city of Bath, England, and re-opened in 2006. Bath and North East Somerset council own the buildings, and, as decreed in a Royal Charter of 1590, are the guardians of the spring waters, which are the only naturally hot, mineral-rich waters in the UK. The Spa is operated by YTL Hotels.

A spa is a location where mineral-rich spring water is used to give medicinal baths. Spa towns or spa resorts typically offer various health treatments, which are also known as balneotherapy. The belief in the curative powers of mineral waters goes back to prehistoric times. Such practices have been popular worldwide, but are especially widespread in Europe and Japan. Day spas are also quite popular, and offer various personal care treatments.


In ancient Rome, the apodyterium was the primary entry in the public baths, composed of a large changing room with cubicles or shelves where citizens could store clothing and other belongings while bathing. Privately owned slaves, or one hired at the baths, called a capsarius, would look after belongings while citizens enjoyed the pleasures of the baths. A contemporary Roman schoolbook quotes a wealthy young Roman schoolboy who entered the baths, leaving his slave behind in the apodyterium: "Do not fall asleep, on account of the thieves."

Ancient Roman bathing

Bathing played a major part in ancient Roman culture and society. It was one of the most common daily activities in Roman culture, and was practiced across a wide variety of social classes.


A steambath is a steam-filled room for the purpose of relaxation and cleansing. It has a long history, going back to Greek and Roman times.

Cross Bath Grade I listed building in Bath and North East Somerset, United Kingdom

The Cross Bath in Bath Street, Bath, Somerset, England is a historic pool for bathing. It was rebuilt, in the style of Robert Adam by Thomas Baldwin around 1789. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building, and was restored during the 1990s by Donald Insall Associates.

Buildings and architecture of Bath

The buildings and architecture of Bath, a city in Somerset in the south west of England, reveal significant examples of the architecture of England, from the Roman Baths, to the present day. The city became a World Heritage Site in 1987, largely because of its architectural history and the way in which the city landscape draws together public and private buildings and spaces. The many examples of Palladian architecture are purposefully integrated with the urban spaces to provide "picturesque aestheticism". It is the only entire city in Britain to achieve World Heritage status, and is a popular tourist destination.

Aquae Iasae

Aquae Iasae was the Roman settlement and Roman bath in the area of present city Varaždinske Toplice, Croatia. Today it is the name of the archaeological site.

Beau Street Hoard

The Beau Street Hoard, found in Bath, Somerset, is the fifth-largest hoard ever found in Britain and the largest ever discovered in a British Roman town. It consists of an estimated 17,500 silver Roman coins dating from between 32 BC and 274 AD. The hoard was found on Beau Street about 150 metres (490 ft) from the town's Roman Baths, built when Bath was a Roman colony known as Aquae Sulis.

Timeline of Bath, Somerset

The following is a timeline of the history of the city of Bath, Somerset, England.

The Bath curse tablets are a collection of about 130 Roman era curse tablets discovered in 1979/1980 in the English city of Bath. The tablets invoke the intercession of the goddess Sulis Minerva in the return of stolen goods and to curse the perpetrators of the thefts. Inscribed mostly in British Latin, they have been used to attest to the everyday spoken vernacular of the Romano-British population of the second to fourth centuries A.D.


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