The hot springs have drawn people here since prehistoric times, so it's quite appropriate to begin an exploration of Bath at this excellent museum on the site of the ancient city's primary "watering hole." Roman patricians would gather to immerse themselves, drink the mineral waters, and socialize. With the departure of the Romans, the baths fell into disuse. When bathing again became fashionable at the end of the 18th century, this magnificent Georgian building was erected.
Almost the entire Roman bath complex was excavated in the 19th century, and the museum displays relics that include a memorable mustachioed, Celtic-influenced Gorgon's head, fragments of colorful curses invoked by the Romans against their neighbors, and information about Roman bathing practices. The Great Bath is now roofless, and the statuary and pillars belong to the 19th century, but much remains from the original complex (the Roman characters struttting around, however, are 21st-century) and the
steaming, somewhat murky waters are undeniably evocative. Free tours take place hourly, and you can visit after 6:30 pm in July and August to experience the baths lighted by torches. Wear sensible shoes as the ancient stones are uneven and can be slippery.
Adjacent to the Roman bath complex is the famed Pump Room, built in 1792–96, a rendezvous for members of 18th- and 19th-century Bath society. Here Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen "paraded up and down for an hour, looking at everybody and speaking to no one," to quote from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Today you can take in the elegant space—or you can simply, for a small fee, taste the fairly vile mineral water. Charles Dickens described it as tasting like warm flatirons. The tourist office offers a £66 package that includes a visit to the Roman Baths, a three-course lunch or champagne afternoon tea, and a two-hour Thermae Bath spa session.
Abbey Churchyard, Bath, BA1 1LZ, England
May 3, 2007
I was afraid that the Bath House was a tourist trap, but it is very well done and incredibly interesting. A must-see!