Bath Roman Baths, Somerset

The hot springs at Bath have been a sacred site for thousands of years. Some 10,000 years ago it is understood that the rain waters trickled down to a depth of over 13,200ft (4000m) in places, where it was subsequently heated to temperatures of up to 96 Celsius. Over time, the water rose up through cracks and fissures until it became trapped under a layer of clay, where it remained until a natural fault line developed, allowing the hot water to finally escape to the surface. The Celtic tribe, that occupied the area prior to the Romans, believed it to be a sacred site of the goddess Sulis, who was thought to posses curative powers. Little changed at Bath after the Roman invasion, until the uprising of Bodicia was suppressed and the area suffered terrible reprisals.

In cAD70, some ten years after the uprising the baths were consolidated by the construction of a circular, lead lined reservoir. A precinct was also constructed along with a Temple and Altar to form an early sanctuary. Later, in the 2nd century, some major improvements were made with the addition of a vaulted chamber over the reservoir and some remodelling of the precinct and temple. Subsequently, changes were made to the baths themselves by extending them considerably, and replacing all the previously erected timber roofs with a stone and tile construction.

Regular enhancements to the baths were made throughout the years, and by the late 3rd century they were a far cry from the simplicity of the original pool. As the Roman Empire began to disintegrate in the 4th century, the baths were allowed to become derelict. Eventually, through lack of maintenance, a failure in the drainage system caused the site to flood and be immersed in thick black mud. This it how it remained for several hundred years.

In Saxon times the lands around the old baths was granted to Abbess Berta to found a nunnery. Then, some years later, a group of monks from the church of St Peter were granted other nearby lands for a monastery. These establishments thrived, and in the 12th century a new church was built with the Infirmary located over the original Temple Precinct. This work also included a new bath named the 'King's Bath' which incorporated some of the Roman remains. The abbey dominated the town until the time of the Dissolution by Henry VIII, when its lands were taken and handed over to the civil authorities. However, people continued to be encouraged to visit the site to 'take the waters', and when Queen Anne of Denmark journeyed to Bath in 1615, she endorsed the belief that it was a fashionable place to visit.

To cope with demand in the 18th century, several building schemes were undertaken to extend the facilities and this, ultimately, transformed the bath complex as well as the town. It wasn't until 1880 that the original Roman Bath complex was unearthed, with the discovery of the Great Bath and the Circular Bath, and it is these baths together with the medieval King's Bath which are on view to the public today. The elegant colonnades, statues, and concert room were added at the end of the 19th century.

Bath is an extraordinarily pleasing city, and the steaming springs of Sulis still hold the same mystique for visitors as they did thousands of years ago. We have visited this city many times and always enjoy its warm atmosphere and harmonious beauty.


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