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Although still mostly buried under magnificent Georgian streets, the Roman ruins in Bath are unsurpassed in Britain. Some believe
Bath’s Roman art and sumptuousness some of the most important ones in the empire; certainly Bath has no rivals north of the Alps. About 2m below the present level of the city, the Romans started building their great baths and temple at the sacred spring soon after the Conquest, in the middle of the 1st Century AD. They named their city Aque Sulis and soon transformed the Celtic druids grove into one of the major therapeutic centres of the West. The Romans revered the Spring just as the Celts had done; by the 3rd century its stunning temple and luxurious baths attracted pilgrims from throughout the Roman world.

The art and engineering of the remarkable baths at Minerva's temple offer us a glimpse of Roman Britain at its most glorious. The complex housed was completed in the 4th century AD. An elaborate hypocaust heating system serviced a series of hot sweat rooms; swimming pools and rooms which cooled the pilgrims down. The Great Bath was at the centre whit its own hall. Surrounded by the gods, whose statues emerged mysteriously from the swirling steam, the Great Bath must have seemed a wonder of the ancient world.
The ancient world marvelled at Minerva ‘s great temple in Bath. Shrouded in steam, pilgrims approached the mysterious sacred spring at the heart of the temple in the belief that it was the actual place of the Sulis Minerva, whose healing cult had spread from Britain throughout the Empire. Not only was Minerva's water renowned for its healing powers; the pilgrims also believed that they could communicate directly with the Underworld by throwing their offerings into the spring. Almost 20,000 coins and several gold and silver artefacts have been recovered. The visual and symbolic focus of the temple was the sacrificial altar. The great mass of stone stood nearly 2m high; its top was chiselled smooth and slightly dished to host the animals that were slaughtered for augury.
The written dedications ,vows and curses are amongst the most remarkable and revealing artefacts recovered from the Roman Baths that hundreds of pilgrims cast into the hot spring. As well as appealing to Sulis Minerva for health or wealth, the pilgrims inscribed curses on thin pewter sheets which were then usually rolled up and placed in the water. Typically each curse stated a lost love or piece of stolen property; potency suspects 'whether pagan or Christian' were often listed with an appeal that the guilty should meet some foul end. Common are spells to counter others curses; writing backwards was thought to imbue the magic with extra potency.

Flooding finally ruined Bath wondrous temple and the Great Bath complex. Built in the slight hollow around the hot spring, the Baths and temple were particularly vulnerable to the rising water level of the 4th century AD. The baths drained into the River Avon, as they do today, and as the Avon's level rose so river water increasingly backed up the drains until they were eventually blocked with mud and silt. When the Romans withdrew from Britain, the baths were simply not repaired and soon fell to ruin. Saxon Christians dismantled the sacrificial altar to use as paving stones for their new monastery. Before long the hot spring returned to marsh. The site of Minerva's great temple became a dumping place for town refuse and, in later times, a Saxon graveyard.


The Sacred Spring lies at the very heart of the ancient monument. Water rises here at the rate of over a million litres a day and at a temperature of 460C. The Spring rises within the courtyard of the Temple of Sulis Minerva and water from it feeds the Roman baths. There is some slight evidence, an earthen bank projecting into the Spring, that suggests it was already a focal point for worship before the Roman Temple and baths were built. Roman engineers surrounded the Spring with an irregular stone chamber lined with lead. To provide a stable foundation for this they drove oak piles into the mud. At first this reservoir formed an open pool in a corner of the Temple courtyard but in the second century AD it was enclosed within a barrel vaulted building and columns and statues were placed in the Spring itself. Enclosing the Spring in a dimly lit building in this way and erecting statues and columns within it must have enhanced the aura of mystery that surrounded it. Offerings were thrown into the Spring throughout the Roman period.Eventually the vaulted building collapsed into the Spring itself. We do not know when this was, but it is likely to have been in the sixth or seventh century. The oak piles sunk into the mud two thousand years ago continue to provide a stable foundation for the Roman reservoir walls today.


The Roman bathing complex at Bath was completely out of proportion to the size of the Roman town here. Fed with naturally hot water from the Sacred Spring it was designed to cater to the needs not just of local people, but of people who travelled as pilgrims from across the Empire.The baths at Bath were unusual not just for their size, but also for the fact that they used so much hot water. Roman bathing did not normally use much hot water, as this was expensive to produce. Instead Roman bathing was based around the practice of moving through a series of heated rooms culminating in a cold plunge at the end. This sequence might include an opportunity to luxuriate in a hot tub or a small bath of hot water in the caldarium, but it did not involve swimming around in a great hot swimming pool such as that provided at Bath.


The eastern range of the bath house contained a large tepid bath fed by water that flowed through a pipe from the Great Bath. A series of heated rooms were developed here which became progressively larger until the site reached it maximum extent in the fourth century AD. As part of the presentation of the site today, decorated walls have been suspended over the line of surviving wall foundations from the fourth century AD. This gives visitors an impression of the enormous size of some of the rooms in this bath house.


The western range of the bath house contained a series of heated rooms and plunge pools. The development of suites of heated rooms at both the western and eastern ends of the site may have allowed simultaneous use of the site by both men and women, but maintained a seemly separation of facilities for them. The West Baths contains an exceptionally well preserved set of pilae which were piles of tiles through which hot air circulated to heat the floor and walls of the room above.


An unusual feature of the Roman Baths is this special heated room known as a laconicum. It was a small room of intense dry heat, although it could have been turned into a steam room by splashing water about. Either way you would have quickly broken out in a profuse sweat if you stayed here for more than a minute or two. You would then be ready to receive treatment with oil and a strigil to make you invigoratingly clean!


A cold plunge bath was a feature of many Roman bath houses, but rarely on this scale! Here you could take an invigorating plunge after treatments in the warm and hot rooms – but you probably would not linger! The bath is 1.6 metres deep and on one side has an underwater plinth on which a water feature, probably a fountain, once stood.


The King’s Bath was built, using the lower walls of the Roman Spring building as foundations, in the 12th century. The bath provided niches for bathers to sit in, immersed up to their necks in water. On the south side of the bath is a seat beneath the waterline, known as the Master of the Baths chair, that was donated in the 17th century.Although modified and encroached upon by the building of the Grand Pump Room in the 18th century and subsequent 19th century developments the King’s Bath continued in use for curative bathing until the middle of the 20th century. The bath is overlooked by a statue of King Bladud, the mythical discoverer of the hot waters and founder of the City of Bath.