The baths were commissioned by Hadrian in year 126 AD on the arrival of marble in Leptis Magna. The baths were for Imperial use only, not for the commoners, and there would have been a charge to enter. They were not merely a place for ablutions, they were the social hub of the city.
Bathing followed a strict ritual in the Roman days. Entry to the baths was from the palaestra (sports ground - see later tip) and the bathers would proceed to the changing rooms (apodyterium). The next port of call would be the laconia (sweat rooms or sauna as we know it today) where oils and herbs would be used on their skin, they would partake in excercise following which the oil would be scraped off their bodies along with any dirt.
They would then usually continue to the calidarium (hot baths), followed by the tepidarium (warm baths) and finally the frigidarium (the cold baths)
After the cleansing rituals, bathers would carry out more relaxing activities such as strolling in the gardens or lazing in the outdoor pool. Bathing was considered a leisure activity in Roman times and was part of the daily routine for men of all classes, as well as many women. While we consider bathing to be a very private activity conducted in the home, bathing in Roman cities was a communal activity, conducted in public facilities such as these baths.
Roman engineers devised an ingenious system of heating the baths—the hypocaust. By raising the floor off the ground with the use of pillars, cavities were created inside the walls so that hot air from the furnace (praefurnium) could circulate through these open areas. The calidarium and laconicum would be placed closest to the hypocaust as they would require the most heat, in this case, just outside the southern wall. In some baths the floors would be so hot that the bathers would have to wear wooden sandels to stop their feet from being burnt.
The first monument you come to as you enter the site, is this magnificent ceremonial arch, dating from 203 AD. The arch was constructed to commemorate the emperor Septimus Severus, who was born at Leptis Magna. The core of the structure was built of limestone and then the surface was covered by thin sheets of marble. The broken pediment on the top is unique.
The three steps pediment in the centre of the arch were deliberately placed so that it would stop chariots going through the arch to maintain a aura of reverence.
It took 30 years to restore this quadrofronted arch, a job beautifully executed by the Italians. Their work has only recently been completed, and we were amongst the first people to see the arch without its scaffolding for a number of years.
In the background you can see the Decomanus Maximus, the main East-West raod, which ran all the way from Carthage in Tunisia to Alexandria in Egypt. Most of it would have been paved.
The first port of call in the baths would have been the laconica, or sweat room, where oils and herbs (and sometimes clay)would have been applied to the skin by slaves.
The five laconicas in these baths were not added until much later during the time of Commodus.
From the tepidarium bathers would continue their ritual in the frigidarium, or the cold room. This was one of the grandest rooms in the entire bath complex at Leptis Magna, with eight massive cipolin columns nearly nine metres high. Above the columns would have been a vaulted roof adorned with brilliant blue and turquiose mocaics. The floor would have been paved with marble and the niches along the wall contained over 40 marble statues - some of which can now be seen in the museum.
Along the main roads of the city, were these milestones. The city was laid out to a strict plan with an ordered pattern of streets. The main streets would have been the Cardo Maximus (north-south road) and the Decomanus Maximus (east-west road). This milestone marks the point that is exactly one mile from the Forum along the Cardo. It dates from 1st century AD.
After having the oils scraped off, the bathers were now ready to enter the Calidarium or hot room. The room faces south, as the design of the times demanded and there would probably have been a large glass window on the southern side of the room. The roof was barrel-vaulted with several domes.
One of the main reasons for carrying out this strict bathing ritual, starting with the hottest and finishing with the coldest, was because of the outside temperature in summer. It was thought that going from Libyan desert summer temperatures to a cold bath, would be too much of a shock to the system, hence the hot baths were entered first.
After spending time in the calidarium, the bathers would proceed to the tepidarium or warm baths. Originally there was just one pool here, lined on two sides by columns, but at some later stage, two further pools were added.
Outside the baths, you would find the Gymnasium or palaestra. As part of the bathing ritual, excercises would take place here, such as fighting, wrestling and weightlifting. The centre of the plaza would have been open to the sky, whilst the sides would have been roofed. This was a place open to men only.
The 3rd century Nympheum, or Temple to the Nymphs, is where the common people would come to collect their water. The facade was constructed with red granite and cipolin columns and the niches were once filled with marble statues. A reservoir behind brought water in from the wadi.
The Romans were very fond of their wine, in fact they even had a god of wine and intoxication, Bacchus.
Bacchanalia, orgies in honor of Dionysus (Bacchus was known as Dionysus in Greek mythology), were introduced in Rome around 200 BCE. These infamous celebrations, notorious for their sexual and criminal character, got so out of hand that they were forbidden by the Roman Senate in 186 BCE.
This doorway leads into what would have been the wine shop.
In the natatio or entrance hall, is the outdoor swimming pool, the last port of call in the baths, where bathers would socialise and relax after their cleansing ritual. The pool is surrounded on three sides by columns and the floor was paved with marble and mosaics.
Also known as the Several Forum, as during his reign, Septimus Severus moved the foum to a different part of the city.
This is where the main commercial activity took place, in the massive 100m by 60m open square. Although not much of the forum has been reconstructed, you can still get a feeling of its former grandeur.
The walls were two storey high and reached all the way to the harbour, with shops lining both floors, and porticies rising to limestone arches. There were temples, various inscriptions and representations of goddesses.
At one end of the forum was the oriatory. This was a platform where the great speakers of the day would have recited poetry, convey important news and interesting gossip, held political speaches and just generally rambled on about whatever subject atracted their attention.
Over 70 of these gorgon heads have been found in the forum - they would hvae been used to decorate the facades between the arches on the inside walls. Mostly they are symbolic representations of the Roman goddess Victory, or as here, Medusa.
Medusa was once a beautiful maiden with glorious hair, but Athena turns her into a monster in a rage of jealousy, turning her beautiful locks into hissing serpents. She became such a cruel monster that everyone who looked at her where immideately turned to stone in sheer fear. Athena leant her shield to Perseus, who also wore Hermes' winged shoes, and he approached Medusa while she slept, making sure he did not to look directly at her, but using her image reflected in the bright shield, he cut off her head and gave it to Athena, who fixed it in the middle of her Aegis.
Although best known as a Greek goddess, Medusa was actually imported into Greece from Libya where she was worshipped by the Libyan Amazons as their Serpent-Goddess. In her images, her hair sometimes resembles dread locks, showing her origins in Africa.