Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tour Part 3: Bath

When we left Stonehenge it was just raining, but not very hard. However, as we moved on toward Bath, it began to pour.
It continued to rain as we came into the town, but our first stop was the Roman Bath which is mostly an indoor adventure. We were given an hour and a half to explore the Roman Bath and anything else we wanted to see before getting back on the bus. 

The Roman Bath was the part of the tour that I was most excited about when I signed up. Having taken 5 years of Latin growing up, I had heard lots about Roman culture and structures, but had never had the chance to visit one.

The bath in Bath is arranged so that you first go through a bit of a museum of some of the ruins from the site, and learn a bit about the Roman customs, before moving in to the visible floor remains and pools of water. Throughout the whole visit, you have an audio guide which narrates and tells you more about the things you are viewing.

In the museum part one of the first things they show you is how the layout of the pools was arranged, so you can get an idea of how everything you see fits together.
Then you get to see artifacts from the site such as pillars, pottery, and even a skeleton of a Roman General that was buried there! Many of the ruins that were just partial pieces, were fixed to the wall with a projector pointing at them that would slowly fade in and fade out a projection of what the piece would have looked like originally.
Once you finish exploring the museum part, you find yourself approaching the baths. The first one you encounter is the pool of Minerva, which is still visibly boiling from the hot springs that fill it. 

Bath was originally known as 'Aquae Sulis' which means 'The waters of Sulis'. Sulis is a Celtic name, so the Romans in the area would have referred to the goddess as Sulis Minerva. She was considered a goddess of wisdom.

Near the pool of Minerva they have a nice display about how the bath was also a temple. People would write requests and petitions to Minerva and then throw them into the boiling pool. A few examples of these were available to look at, and the translated into English so you could easily read them.

You are not able to walk right up to that pool (I guess they want to keep you from burning yourself) but once you pass it, you are shown how the clever Romans had designed the baths so that the runoff from the pool of Minerva would be transported to other locations. You can see the water pouring over a drainage system and feel the heat and steam of it.

From here you move on into the area of the main bath. It appears green due to algae growth, but would not have been during the time it was in use.
Walking around the main bath, are people who are dressed as Romans and able to answer any questions you may have about what you see in the Bath. From the main bath region,  you are able to visit both the east and west sections of the baths and see the remnants of the rooms that used to make up this social bathing area. 
Each room contained a description of what would have went on in that room and your audio guide provides you with even more information. The design of the baths is absolutely extraordinary. Looking at the picture below, you can see lots of stacks of stones that look like little pillars. These would have supported the floor and created a region for steam to be pumped into to heat the room, creating a sauna.
Exploring the Roman Bath took a little more than an hour of my time, but luckily it had stopped raining. While I was not able to wander very much around the actually city, what I could see was absolutely gorgeous! 

Bath is periodically banned from the 'Britain in Bloom' contest due to the number of times it has won, and I can easily see why.
That lion is made out of cacti. No, I'm not kidding, that is a cactus topiary in the shape of a lion. Pretty cool isn't it?!

Bath also contains one of the few bridges int he world that has houses on the bridge:
One of the odd thing that you'll notice about Bath is that all the buildings look very much the same. There are rows of attached tan colored houses where each one looks almost exactly like the next.

Apparently the reason for this, was a combination of the fact that many of the buildings were designed by the same person, John Wood, and the influence of William Beckford. Being the richest commoner in England, Beckford held great influence over what was 'popular' and 'acceptable' and so to be in good social rankings and be invited to social events such as dances, people did not dare deviate from the accepted patterns.

Also, for you those of you who may be obsessed with books like Pride and Prejudice, you should know that Jane Austen lived in Bath for a few years. We passed one of the houses she lived in while on the bus, but I was not able to snap a picture fast enough of it.

Another neat set of buildings that I saw from the bus window was a circle of houses. There are many little crescent shaped rows of houses in Bath, but this one was a full circle! The column design on it was also in the style of the Roman Colosseum. Unfortunately, I also learned on this journey that taking pictures out of the window of a moving bus is not one of my talents. Oh well.

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