Long they lay unknown under the ground...
May 19, 1999
We knew we wanted to spend time here. Rick Steve's Back Door to Europe book had a couple of wonderful pages on Bath. We did everything he said and were glad (and exhausted) for it.
The baths were built beginning in 67AD and the Romans kept adding bath after elaborate bath for four hundred years until the empire crumbled. The high vaulted ceiling above the baths crumbled soon after and they lay underground, covered by silt from the river Avon for one thousand three hundred years. Gives us shivers when we think the United States is only two hundred years old.
Over the centuries, Bath the city was built on top of the Roman ruins. Archeologists believe an ancient temple to Minerva lies underneath the cathedral you can see here in the background. When the Romans came to Bath, they found the native Celtic people worshipping the scalding hot waters as the holy place of the god they called Sulis. The Romans decided Sulis was actually a manifestation of Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom. So they named the temple around the baths after 'Sulis Minerva' (and the town was called Aquae Sulis).
Amazing to think all this could be lost!
Think of finding it again! In the 1780s, homeowners kept complaining of water in their basements. The city engineers arrived and dug down to find the intact lead floor of the baths. Imagine finding seventeen hundred year old ruins in your basement. The wise head engineer convinced the city council to buy all the homes, tear them down and resurrect the ancient Roman baths seen here.
The eighteen hundred year old Roman engineering is still impressive today. This overflow from the sacred springs drains the hot water into the river Avon through entirely original Roman waterworks.
To the left here you can see the source of the hot spring water that feeds the baths. The Romans called this the Sacred Spring.
Before the English knew the extent of the baths beneath them, they knew about the hot springs and believed they had curing powers. In this photo, the water level is where it was in Roman times. But notice that the walls are darker just below the archway. This marks the level of the water in the seventeenth century when the English built the Kings Baths. (There is a chair just below the archway for sitting in the hot water.)
The English flocked here to be cured of their ailments by soaking in the 'curative' waters. We might think this another quaint dark-ages superstition, but many of them went home cured and there's reason for it. Plumbing at that time was all done in lead, and a good many people had lead poisoning. When they came to bath, the doctors not only had them sit in the hot water and perspire, they made them drink it. They wouldn't let them drink alcohol or eat fatty foods, so the patients slowly had the lead leach out of their bodies. They lost stones of weight to boot and went home feeling quite fit.
In Roman times, people would write curses on small foils of pewter. They'd roll them up and throw them into the Sacred Spring hoping Minerva would punish those who had robbed or otherwise wronged the worshipper.
After we visited the Baths, we had lunch in the Pump Room. It was reasonably priced but more than reasonably rich. These Brits know how to fatten up even a vegetarian.
The bread was excellent.
Then just after lunch we caught up with a volunteer tour of Bath. We toured the architecture from this Parish Cathedral (meaning anyone in town is entitled to be married here because it's the parish church - not common for so grand a structure as a cathedral)...
to the Pultney Bridge, one of only two bridges in Europe which were originally built to house shops.
Last but not least we visited the Assembly Rooms and Costume Museum. Unfortunately for our website, the folks at the museum won't let anyone take pictures. Something about how clothing deteriorates when exposed to light. It was dimly lit in the display rooms, but well worth the viewing.
We've checked to make sure light isn't leaking into the cabinet where we store our underwear.
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