Sunday, August 21, 2016

Visiting the Ancient Roman Baths of Bath, England

Gran Bomba, Baños Romanos, Bath, Inglaterra, 2014-08-12, DD 03
Photo by Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.
It’s interesting to visit historical places with pre-conceived notions and leave looking at things afresh. When I visited the ancient Roman baths of Bath, England I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went with a scene from a film adaptation of Northanger Abbey in my mind, where the characters wore dresses, with the delicate fabric afloat around them and drank tea while enjoying the warmth and therapeutic benefits of the mineral baths.

Poster in the elegant lobby of the Roman baths.

What I hadn’t considered is that an ancient town of Aquae Sulis once thrived in the area. The mineral baths weren’t just for healing, but also part of a temple system built for the worship of a pagan goddess, Sulis Minerva, combining both Celtic and Roman traditions. Sulis was a Celtic goddess of fertility and Minerva a Roman deity of healing.

One of the statues of an ancient Roman
leader, added during the 19th century.
With 43 minerals and a naturally occurring hot water spring, in the first century A. D., this area eventually known as Bath was an ideal spot for the Romans to set up a place for cleansing and experience the curative properties.

Collection of Roman coins.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, street level structures enclosed the ruins of the ancient baths. The restaurant, now called the Pump Room, a renovated facility that dates back to the Georgian period, is actually built over the temple. Once a visitor enters the grand updated entry, they are sent around the desk to the terrace where the guided audio tour begins.

Bronze head of Sulis Minerva statue.
As you step out onto the terrace you are able to look down into the Great Bath. Carved statues of Roman emperors and governors of Roman Britain added in the 1800s stand atop the railings like silent sentinels. The tour takes the visitor through the museum which houses exhibits showing short films which correspond with different objects. These films feature actors portraying the people of Aquae Sulis, whether it is a wealthy lady having her hair done by her servant or a priest preparing for a sacrifice.

Other objects of note in the museum are a collection of over 12,000 Roman coins, gems found caught in one of the drains, many ancient Roman artifacts, and a large bronze head from the statue of Sulis Minerva, encased in glass.

View of one of the baths.
While the coins were tossed into the sacred spring as an offering so were sheets of lead or pewter with curses written on them. They were often written outcries for justice against thieves who took the clothes of those who were enjoying their time in the baths!

Making my way through the museum was rather overwhelming as there was so much to take in. I saw pieces of the temple pediment, models of the temple complex, and walked through the enclosed building block ruins of the courtyard.

Great Bath.
What I enjoyed the most was finally making my way down to the Great Bath in the center and walking on the pavement surrounding the pool—unaltered pavement once trod by ancient Romans. Being able to, in a way, touch history was a memorable experience.

While the large pool is still filled with the rich mineral water, visitors aren’t allowed in, but you can sample a cup of the water. I missed out on this. If you’re especially fortunate you may run into one of the costumed actors. I spoke with a "merchant" who had come from another country and happily shared with me about the healing powers of urine from Portugal!

There were other rooms on the level of the bath, containing areas where once stood a cooling pool to dip into after your 115 degree soak. There was also a room once used as a sauna.

Traveling merchant with some of his wares.
All in all, I greatly enjoyed my visit to the ancient Roman baths and would have loved to have more time to explore. The ancient springs still feed the area and I had a lot of fun with my niece at the modern Thermae Spa, in a separate building, which contains two pools, and a sauna. Even today visitors can enjoy the relaxing and therapeutic value of the mineral waters of Bath, England.

Kathleen Rouser has loved making up stories since she was a little girl and wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She desires to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She is a long time member in good standing of ACFW and a former board member of its Great Lakes Chapter. Kathleen has been published in anthologies, including the Amazon bestseller, Christmas Treasures, as well as in both print and online magazines. Her debut full-length novel, Rumors and Promises, was recently published by Heritage Beacon Fiction in April, 2016.

Previously a home-school mom of three, she has more recently been a college student and a mild-mannered dental assistant. Along with her sassy tail-less cat, she lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of 34 years, who not only listens to her stories, but also cooks for her.

Connect with her on the web: 

Twitter: @KathleenRouser


  1. Very interesting. That water doesn't look too inviting to me....I wonder if any tourists have ever accidentally fallen into it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Good question, Chappydebbie! I wondered what would happen if they did. I imagine the natural water is colored by minerals. At least in the modern spa the water is clear!

  2. Kathy, this post was very informative. What an opportunity to speak to a merchant but sharing about urine in the water does not sound like a pleasant experience. The water does not look clean, but I see your remark that "the modern spa water is clear". Glad you had a great trip and experienced history.

    1. Hi Marilyn! I should clear one thing up--the merchant meant bottled urine--not sure how they
      used that as a curative back then, but I don't think it went in the water. It was a wonderful
      trip. Would love to do it again if I could, but I'm thankful for the blessing of at least going once.

  3. Fascinating post! These photos are awesome! How fun it must have been to interact with the costumed actors. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Caryl! Thank you. So glad you enjoyed the post and the photos. I was wishing the light
      was better. It was a fun and awesome trip. I'm blessed to have a niece there in the Bath,
      England area, who enjoys company!

  4. Very interesting post, Kathy. Makes me want to go there and see that myself!

    1. So much history there. It was worth the time and effort to go. Thank you
      for reading my post and leaving a comment, Marilyn. :)