We decorated our Christmas tree this past weekend and in so doing I pulled out the ornaments we purchased while visiting the Roman Baths last summer, which reminded me of our wonderful visit to the museum there, a true highlight of our trip. Bath itself is charming and is rightly famous for its beautiful Georgian architecture and associations with Jane Austen. Should you choose to, you can still sip mineral water in the Pump Room à la a character out of Persuasion. But the focus of the Roman Baths museum is on recreating what day-to-day life would have been like for the Romans who used the springs for prayer, healing, and offerings to the gods.
Calling it as Aquae Sulis, the Romans built a temple complex around the natural heated springs. In the museum, one wall is dedicated to a video of costumed actors portraying the many different types of people who would have visited the baths. And there are fascinating sculptures, tombstones, coins, and other decorative items that were recovered from the site.
In addition to displaying artifacts and explaining what they were used for, the museum shows objects in their partial, ruined form and then fills in the details. For example, in the area dedicated to the temple that once stood near the baths, the ornamental pediment with its fantastic and mysterious Gorgon’s head presides.
Although only pieces remain, a video animation fills in the gaps so that you can see what the temple might have looked like.
Like many British museums, this one offers a special audioguide designed for children. Numbered signs throughout the exhibits show children what buttons to push and then they can listen to their own age-appropriate narrative while you listen to yours. Despite the fact that the museum was crowded on the day we visited, my boys listened happily to all of the explanations and were fascinated to learn about what kinds of role children played in the community surrounding the baths.
The springs were used in different ways by the Romans, who built changing rooms, saunas, and cold plunge baths, different pieces of which can be seen. The center of the tour and the museum is the Great Bath, which was enclosed in Roman times but which is now open to the sky and the tower of the nearby Abbey. I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for the juxtaposition of the ancient and the merely very old – not something you find in the United States.
Like countless people in the eras before us, we made sure to toss coins into the spring for good luck as we left.
(One final note: I’m a bit appalled with myself to realize that here it is mid December and I haven’t yet written about half of our trip to England which happened in July! Please rest assured that at some point I will not only get to everything, but will also publish an itinerary of our journey so you can see just where we went and in what order. So much travel, so little blog space apparently.)