Roman Baths

Roman Baths

Gorgon's Head

Gorgon's Head

 

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 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. 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, 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. The first shrine at the site of the hot springs was built by Celts, and was 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. 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.

 

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. During the Roman occupation of Britain, and possibly on the instructions of Emperor Claudius, 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, and included the caldarium (hot bath), tepidarium (warm bath), and frigidarium (cold bath). 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, and flooding. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests the original Roman baths were destroyed in the 6th century. About 130 curse tablets have been found. Many of the curses related to thefts of clothes whilst the victim was bathing.

 

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. 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 and the Baths filled in less time than formerly.

 

The museum houses artefacts from the Roman period including objects which 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. A gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva, which was discovered nearby in 1727, is displayed. 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 wide and 8 feet from the apex to the bottom, above the pillars on the front of the building. It featured the very powerful central image of the Gorgon’s head glowering down from a height of 15 metres 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 although there is some controversy about what this really represents as Gorgons are usually female. An alternative interpretation sees the central head as the image of a water god such as the image of Oceanus, and yet another as a Celtic sun god. Also on display are the remains of the elaborate hypocaust heating system which served the sweat rooms.

 

Lifts are available and 90% of the site is accessible to wheelchair users. Visitors with hearing or visual impairments are able to enjoy the site using sign language audio guides and tactile displays. Because the Roman Baths are six metres below street level, there are unfortunately a number of steps throughout the site. We have recently installed two lifts and improved the handrails in many places, but to access the entire site, you will still need to climb some steps. Please make staff aware that you have limited mobility, and they will direct you to the most accessible route. They give every visitor a hand-held audioguide to help you enjoy your visit. If arthritis or any other limb condition makes it difficult for you to hold, they can give you an ear-piece or headphones. Disabled visitors pay the normal price for admission, the accompanying carer goes free. They have some Braille information panels and tactile models as well as a more descriptive audioguide for people with visual impairments, which describes things in greater detail. Braille transcripts of the audioguide are available on request. They are happy to arrange object-handling sessions for groups with special needs. Maps for wheelchair users.

 

Location : Roman Baths, Abbey Church Yard, Bath, BA1 1LZ

Transport: Bath Spa (National Rail) 9 minutes. Bus Routes : Bus station is 5 minutes away. National Coach from London Victoria stops here.

Opening Times : Daily 09:00 - 18:00; July + August until 22:00

Tickets : Adults £15.00;  Seniors £13.25;  Children (6 - 16) £9.50

Tel: 01225 477785