Heritage magazine recently commissioned me to do an article about the history of the Roman Baths in Bath. It appears in the issue on sale in September 2009.
At the heart of the Roman Baths in the City of Bath, 240,000 gallons of hot water bubbles up every day into the ‘Sacred Spring’. This steamy, mineral-rich water is said to have amazing properties. The Celts believed it was where the goddess Sul lived. The Romans bobbed and bathed in it, associating the water with Minerva, their own goddess of medicine and wisdom. While the Victorians not only swam in the water, they drank it, seeking homoeopathic cures to illnesses such as rheumatism, sciatica, lumbago and gout.
Today, the Roman Baths attract more than a million visitors a year. It’s Bath’s premier tourist attraction – a superbly-preserved Roman bathing house patched up by some elegant 19th Century re-engineering.
Take a tour and most of the original Roman building that stood over 1,900 years ago is still accessible. In fact, when you look down from the Victorian-built terrace to the emerald water in the Great Bath below you’re only seeing a small part of the overall site. The Roman Baths are actually six metres below the current street level. The rest stretches out underground, beneath nearby streets and the Abbey churchyard.
Bath and North East Somerset Council are currently updating the Roman Baths to “keep it at the forefront of the competitive visitor attractions industry.” The idea is to look beyond simply showcasing the silent monument and to explore the human stories of the people who used it.
Improvements are ongoing and include: new digital photo displays, more detailed scale models, costumed actors, animated projections, interactive exhibits and virtual 3D reconstructions. Lifts have also been added to boost accessibility. If you’ve already visited, there’s now every reason to go back for another look.