Roman Baths, Bath
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.
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
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
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.
The Roman Baths are the trademark of Bath city. The bathing establishment with its Temple and Baths flourished between the 1st and 5th century A.C.
The remains are in a very good condition. The site includes statues and a collection of coins, jewellery and a unique bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva.
On the street level, the 18th century Pump Room is ideal for tea, coffee or lunch and a taste of the waters.
The Roman Baths simply cannot be missed if you visit Bath. If you can only spare two or three hours in the city, do try and spend them at this UNESCO World Heritage site.
These are the best-preserved Roman baths in the world and offer the chance to look back at the Roman way of life in a way you simply would not experience anywhere else. It is believed that worship at the hot spring that flows into the Bath goes back to long before the Romans. When the Romans came, they built baths and temples on the site to worship Sulis Minerva, and there are fascinating computer reconstructions in the museum that show you how the site developed over several hundred years. It's amazing to walk around and think that you are following in the footsteps of men and women who bathed and socialised here almost 2000 years ago. Parts of the complex are so well-preserved that it's hard to believe it is really that old.
The baths also played a key role in the 18th and 19th centuries, when Bath was THE place to be seen. People came to the city for to take the waters and to bathe for their health, and you can learn more about this during the tour.
I last visited in March 2005, and found that the experience had been much enhanced since my previous visit in 1997. A hand-held audio tour is included in the admission price, just key in the relevant number when you see the sign, and the commentary will explain all about the part of the baths you are in. There are fascinating artefacts on display throughout the museum dealing with all aspects of Roman life. Look out for the curses that the Romans used to write and toss into the springs to bring misfortune on those who had wronged them!
An adult ticket is £9.50, and I thought it was worth every penny. I'd recommend you allow a good couple of hours for your visit to really make the most of it. And if the weather is wet, it's a good place to go because it's all undercover (great if it's a cold day too, because you see the steam rising up off the water - very mystical!)
This has been Bath's favourite meeting place since the eighteenth century.
Water is pumped up to a fountain and it is served to those who want to taste it.
The Pump Room is open for coffee, tea or lunch.
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 Terrace is just after the reception hall of the Roman Baths and it is the first part of the tour to the Baths. It overlooks the Great Bath and the balconies have statues of Roman Governors of Britain, Emperors and military leaders.
In Roman times a Temple was built next to the Spring dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva.The Temple at Bath is one of only two truly classical temples known from Roman Britain.
It was the place where the cult statue of the goddess Sulis Minerva was housed.
The Roman Baths are worth visiting for the history and how Bath became an important city in the Roman times as well as the Georgian ones. The Baths are known as Aquae Sulis which were originally completed with temple and baths during the 1st and 5th centuries A.D and were revolved around a natural hot spring. On entry, visitors are given an audio guide which complements the main highlights of the Roman Baths. It took me around 2.5 hours to take in all the information and history and cost around 11-12GBP.
The Sacred Spring is located on the lower level of the site. It is the most important part of the Baths. This is the place were hot water at a temperature of 46C rises every day and has been doing this for thousands of years. The mineral rich water from the Spring has healing powers.
In the East baths you will see a sequence of heated rooms and plunges.
The western part of baths includes a sequence of pools and heated rooms with an excavation showing how their heating system would have worked. At the end you will find a cold circular plunge pool .
The Roman Baths are a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and definitely worthy of the honour. The natural thermal spring supplying the baths have been used since the first century AD, and the museum now set up has preserved much of the relics from its history over the ages.
An audio guide included in admission will take you through the baths, inclucing the main bath, the ancient "sauna" rooms, the Roman drainage system, artifacts found in the baths, etc. Definitely worthy of 2-3 hours of your time in Bath.
pictured is the great bath of the roman thermae. there are also two smaller baths in this complex. also with the baths is the temple of sulis minerva. inside of the complex is an interesting museum displaying 1 st century roman sculptures. the great bath was lined with 45 sheets of lead as were the pipes leading from the hot springs. the plumbing system of the thermae is an interesting example of ancient engineering.