The Roman Baths have had a makeover since my last visit to Bath so I was keen to visit and see what they had to offer. I have to say that I was impressed and really enjoyed my visit, although the hoards of visiting school pupils (French and English) made it harder than I’d have liked to really get into the spirit of the times.
My £11 entry included a free audio guide so although I don’t always bother with these I collected my handset and set off on my tour. The commentary though proved to be excellent, and it has many additional features that complement the main narrative, including observations by Bill Bryson, a separate text for children and additional facts for those who want to learn more about individual areas of the baths or items on display.
The tour takes in several areas of the Roman Baths and the Regency additions, as well as exhibits on the temple to Sulis Minerva which also stood on this site. I particularly liked the Sacred Spring (very atmospheric with the steam rising from it), the pediment from the temple in the museum area (see separate tip), and the fridgidarium, where life-size images of Roman bathers are projected onto the walls to great effect (photo 3).
The centre piece of the complex is the Great Bath, and I enjoyed listening to a guide there explaining how the Romans would have used this as much more than just a place to bathe. Here they would gather to do business, meet their friends and network. It was a place to see and be seen. It was fed with hot water directly from the Sacred Spring and lined with 45 thick sheets of lead. It is 1.6 metres deep and was accessed by four steep steps that entirely surround it. These steps, the flagged paving around it and the bath itself are still intact from Roman times, but the tall columns and higher terrace (including the apparently Roman statues – see photo 4) date from the Victorian era when the Baths were rediscovered after centuries under city streets.
But if the Great Bath is the centre piece, the heart of the complex is the Sacred Spring (photo 2), without which the baths, and arguably the city of Bath, would not exist. Here water at a consistent temperature of 460C still rises as it has done for thousands of years. To the Romans this was a mystical phenomenon, as it was to the Celts who were here before them, and they built a magnificent temple on the site, dedicated to Sulis Minerva, according to their effective custom of integrating the worship of local gods, in this case Sulis, with their own deities. From this came the Roman name for the city, Aquae Sulis: the waters of Sulis. In the museum you can see some of the curses which Romans would etch on pewter discs and throw into the pool to exhort the goddess to punish those they believed had wronged them. Later, in Regency times, bathers would descend to this pool from the Pump Room next door to soak in its mineral-rich water. Today, when you exit the baths, you can go straight into the Pump Room (see separate tip) to experience something of the Regency approach to taking the waters.
The Baths are open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day (26th December). Hours vary according to the time of year, but opening time is either 9.00 or 9.30 AM, and closing around 5.00 PM – but in July and August they remain open until 9.00 PM and I imagine look lovely on a summer evening. The usual £11.00 adult charge is however raised to £11.50 in those months. Concessions include a family ticket at £32.00, £7.20 for children 6-16 and £9.50 for over 65s and students with ID.
UPDATE Sept 2009:
I was recently lucky enough to attend an evening reception here, hosted by the Mayor for a group from a conference of Archivists. The Baths looked magical in the evening light and were nicely illuminated - see photo 5.
In medieval times a cure for conditions such as paralysis, colic, palsy ( I had that), and gout was sought from bathing in spa water.
The Pump Room was opened in 1706 to provide a place to drink the spa water. For the most part visitors were given a pint or two but as much as a gallon a day can be "prescribed"!
Today, it's easy to be skeptical about the healing properties of spa water, but people still do try and drink this.
The Water: There are 43 minerals in in the water. Calcium and sulphate are the main dissolved ions. The water is low in dissolved metals except for iron which gives the characteristic iron staining around the baths, giving the water a distinctive taste, and color. The mineral content for the water is 2.18 grammes per litre. Just think of it as another brand of a mineral water. Harmless...
There is a small fee for a glass of water, but is free to Bath residents, visitors that paid admission price to the Roman Baths Museum
Roman Baths were centers for public bathing and socialization. People in bath houses stayed for hours and they went daily.
The Roman Baths are divided into four major sections: The Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House proper, and finds from the Roman Baths. All are included in admission and essentially seamless as you walk through the facility.
From the story of its discovery to the artifacts and ruins that you will see, all worth the visit.
Either take a guided tour or just listen in your audio guide (provided at the entrance).
The audio tour has three commentaries, one for adults, one for children and a shorter commentary by Bill Bryson.
Go down below ground level and see how the baths work, their original source, the frigidarium, the temple of Minerva, mosaics, Roman relics including coins and gemstones ,statues, tombstones, curses thrown to the Gods against thieves and criminals....see Roman life on screens, walk on the stone pavements now distorted from thousands of visitors making the pilgrimage over 2000 years.
I was very pleasantly surprised how much there was to see, and how well everything was presented. The audioguide had a section for children , which adults could enjoy too. The commentry by Bill Bryson was most enjoyable.
Well worth the entry fee.
When you visit the Roman Baths (see separate tip) you are naturally likely to be drawn to the baths themselves, especially the magnificent Great Bath and its surrounding smaller pools and Sacred Spring. But do allow plenty of time to visit the exhibits in the museum area of the complex too, as they will add a lot to your enjoyment and appreciation of the site. Your free audio guide will give you all the information you need to understand the objects and their relevance for the Romans who would have come to worship at the temple, make offerings to the goddess or to bathe in the waters.
Highlights for me included:
~ the temple pediment with the carved head of a bearded man with snake-like coils of hair
~ the mosaic floor with a dolphin and hippocamps – animals with the front of a horse but the tail of a fish (see photo 2)
~ the bronze head of Minerva (make sure you listen to Bill Bryson’s commentary on this)
~ the curses inscribed on pewter and thrown into the Sacred Pool to exhort the goddess to punish those who had offended the writer in some way (e.g. by stealing from them or taking their girlfriend)
~ the computer animations showing how the great temple courtyard would have looked in Roman time
The Roman Baths at Bath are arguable the single biggest attraction for visitors coming to Bath.
The Baths can get very crowded, especially in the peak summer months. Most of the coach tours from London start arriving around lunch time. If you're visiting independently its thus quite a good idea to make for the Baths early morning as soon as you arrive.
At the peak of summer the Baths are open in the evening, another good time for the independent visitor.
The Roman Baths complex is a site of historical interest in the English city of Bath. The complex is a very well-preserved Roman site of public bathing. The Roman Baths themselves are below the modern street level and has four main features, the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and the Museum holding finds from Roman Bath. The buildings above street level date from the 19th century.
The Baths are a major tourist attraction and, together with the Pump Room, receive more than one million visitors a year. It was featured on the 2005 TV programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the West Country. Visitors can see the Baths and Museum but cannot enter the water. An audio guide is available in several languages.
How the hot springs form at Bath:
The water which bubbles up from the ground at Bath, fell as rain on the Mendip Hills. It percolates down through limestone aquifers to a depth of between 2,700 metres (8,858 ft) and 4,300 metres (14,108 ft) metres where geothermal energy raises the water temperature to between 64 °C (147.2 °F) and 96 °C (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 artificial one known as 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, 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 well-preserved Roman Baths complex includes the baths (which were built around the hot spring which rise at 46 deg. C), the remains of the Roman Temple of Aquae Sulis, the museum containing lots of Roman artifacts, and the Pump Room (see separate tip).
The baths date back to 75AD but after the Romans left Britain they fell into disrepair and it was to be the late 1700's before they were rediscovered and returned to something like their former glory.
Full details are in the below website
NB - bathing is not allowed in the Roman Bath
A short tour of this Roman Baths for tourists to gauwk at the engineering and sophistication of the Roman plumbing technology when Rome occupied England.
There is a pool surrounded with Roman columns. An improved pumping system that was added later as pointed out by our tour guide.
The Roman Baths was built around the hotsprings in this area. The water in the Bath today is still unsafe to use and do not try to drink the water either. There is heavy concentration of lead due to use of lead pipes in the past.
If you go to Bath, you must go visit the Roman Baths, truly the highlight of my visit here.
The admission price is a little steep at £10 (since we took the train we only paid £5 each) but you could easily spend 2-3 hours looking at the exhibits and remnants of the old Roman Baths. I only had a little less than 2 hours and my visit seemed rushed so make sure you allot plenty of time to visit.
Outside guides are not allowed to give tours inside the baths/museum so our London Walks guide sent us off at the entrance (discounted to L6.80 for our group) with our included audio handset. You can listen to as much or as little of the commentary as you want.
I would highly recommend trying to find one of the live guided tours near the main bath (says hourly on the website), included in the entrance fee, I only caught a short bit of one but it was much more entertaining than listening to the rather dry audio guide.
You start your visit overlooking the main bath, I was quite taken with an amusing statue of Julius Caesar who didn't look Roman at all, turns out the statue was only about 25 years old, the original statue having literally taken a dive into the bath below. The rest of the statues, according to the live guide, only dated back to the Victorian era, the Victorian baths were unknowingly built on top of the Roman Baths which were uncovered later.
After taking lots and lots of photos of the main baths (great backdrop of the Abbey behind it), you can head through the museum to see some of the original parts of the Roman Baths including some interesting mosaics.
Then its to the lower level of the Roman Baths, make sure to go into the alcove by the sacred spring to feel the heat coming off it and don't miss all of the smaller baths off the main bath.
Bath is famous for its hot baths fed by underground springs and is founded on the only naturally ocurring thermal spa in the United Kingdom.
It was first known as a Roman spa town when it was called Aqua Sulin in the 1st century AD.
Cross Bath was popular with wealthy socialites, Royalty and nobility, who visited the Spa for its healing mineral waters, but it soon became more of a social event!
Early morning, from 0600 sedan chairs carried bathers to the baths, from their boarding houses.
Men and women bathed together,(clothed in fine yellow linen), musicians played, and gossiping, flirting and planning the days entertainment was the order of the day! This was followed by drinking of the waters, before returning to their accomodation for breakfast around 0900hrs.
Cross Bath gets its name from a Stone cross that was erected nearby, to commemorate Queen Mary, (who was thought to be infertile), conceiving after bathing here.
The World Wildlife Fund, have recognised the bath as a sacred site, and it is being restored for public use.
To the left of my main pic can just be seen a green rooftop - This is the Thermae Bath Spa- the only natural thermal spa in Britain. At my visit, it wasn't opened- After a long delay (and being well over its planned budget) it is now open, and offers a modern luxurious Spa Experience, with many treatments- and views from the rooftop pool.
I'd love to visit here one day for a pampering session!!
The Roman Baths in the city of Bath are a very fascinating place to visit. Make sure you take a free audio guide to explain exactly what you are looking at. The museum is set out in a very clear way and there is lots to see.The whole visit can take you several hours and is well worth the time.
It is very interesting to imagine what the place must have looked like in Roman times.
Also the streets around the Baths are full of interest , with lots of shops and cafes.
It is probably a great city to spend more time,unfortunately we only had one day!
My visit to the Roman Baths was some time ago & was actually free for me as my cousin was a Bath resident & its free entry for Bath residents.
The Baths are open throughout the year and the tour is very interesting, it is a self tour with a free audioguide included. The area covering the Baths is fairly large & goes below street level. It is split into 4 sections The sacred spring, The Roman Temple, The Roman Bath House and finds from the Roman Baths.
The tour takes you through the various areas explaining that these Roman Baths were only discovered in the late 19th centuary the hot water gushing out of this spring is 46 degrees C.
The statue of Minerva the goddess is housed in the Roman Temple and you can still see the original Roman plumbing and drainage system which was very advanced. The Great bath is lined with 45 sheets of lead & 1.6m deep but you can't swim here now - besides it is all green & yucky loking. At the end of the tour you are invited to taste the mineral water in the Pump Room, to be honest its an odd sensation being warm & tasting of iron many people think it tastes like blood.
Open Jan-Feb, Nov-Dec 9.30-4.30pm exit 5.30pm
Mar-June 9am - 5pm exit 6pm
July - Aug 9am - 8pm exit 9pm
Costs Adults GBP10.25 GBP11.25 (July - Aug)
Family 2 Adults + 4 children GBP29
The Roman Baths in Bath are an engineering wonder when you consider just when they were constructed.
You could easily spend ages here just marveling at what has been uncovered and is now on display for the general public. When you remember that this was one of the Roman Centers in England and this was how they lived, its very easy to superimpose yourself on what you see (forgetting about the green water of course.)
This really is a marvel and well worth a visit