Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bath: Where the Romans took the waters in England

The famed Pulteney Bridge is as captivating today as it was during the Roman Empire  (wikipedia)

Bath, England – More than two thousand years ago, the Romans ruled the world, including England. And after a long day of conquering and marauding, the Roman baths were a favorite place to tell stories about individual heroics, much the way golfers today gather in the bar to recount your latest 18 hole adventure.

Perhaps the best place to experience Roman culture, elegant architecture, theater and museums in one place in England today is situated about 100 miles west of London in the city of Bath. The Romans called it Aquae Sulis or  “the waters of Sulis,” but locals now simply refer to it as “Baaath.”

For travelers, Bath is a marvelous day trip by train from the English capital. Situated in hills of the valley of the famed River Avon, it was the hot springs that attracted the Romans in 60 AD because of their healing properties. By the 3rd century, the town was fortified with defensive walls but with the decline of the Roman Empire in the early part of the 5th century, the luxurious baths fell into disrepair.

The Abbey dates to the 7th century  (wikipedia)

The once glorious spa and pilgrimage destination was layered with silt, leaving only the ruins of the temple of Sulis-Minerva to mark the ancient site.

By the 7th century Bath Abbey had been built, making the city a religious center. It was rebuilt twice, once in the 12th century and again in the 16th. Thus contemporary travelers can revel in its architectural splendor even today.

For 12 centuries, various churches came and went, and though the hot springs were in continuous use throughout the Middle Ages, they never enjoyed the splendor of their glory days under the Romans until the 1600s when they underwent a “Renaissance.”
The ancient baths are a time capsule of history  (wikipedia)

Wealthy aristocratic families were again enticed to “take the cure” of the natural spring waters and by the early 18th century it had become a fashionable spa. Today Bath proudly proclaims that it “is the only place in the UK where you can bathe in the thermal water that comes directly from the natural hot springs deep beneath the city.”

Many Roman archaeological sites remain throughout the city, including the baths themselves which are especially fascinating because they nestle about 20 feet below the present street level.
The Royal Crescent was the forerunner to today's condominiums  (wikipedia)
Thanks to the excavations of the baths, along with numerous other outstanding attractions, the city became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

Historically, some scholars believe that Bath was the site of the Battle of Bardon in 500 AD where King Arthur is said to have defeated the Anglo Saxons.

Relaxing in the Pump Room  (wikipedia)
Several areas of the city were developed during the era of the Stuarts with even more building taking place during the Georgian era. The Royal Crescent, designed by John Wood the younger, between 1767 and 1774 is the most spectacular of three terraces that have become synonymous with Bath’s history.

The terraces, known as the “Circus”, consist of three long, curved spaces that form a circular area which were intended for civic functions and games. Inspiration came from the Colosseum in Rome.

Italian influence can also be seen at the popular picturesque Pulteney Bridge which spans the River Avon. The three-arched design came from the Rialto Bridge in Venice, but it was also created as a shopping venue much like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

Today, Pulteney Bridge, though substantially altered since its original construction, remains one of the few surviving bridges in Europe that serves the dual purpose of crossing a river and “shopping mall.”

Though a popular tourist mecca today, an early visitor in the 19th century once remarked that “lodgings are not very numerous, but are distinguished for the elegance, convenience and comfort which they afford visitors.”

The Jane Austen Centre highlights the early 1800s when Austen lived in Bath  (wikipedia)
Bath no longer has an inadequate amount of accommodations. In fact, fans of Jane Austen can stay in the same residence where the famous novelist once lived in the early 1800s. Located just off the well known Great Pulteney Street, which has been the site of numerous period movies for obvious reasons, the 18th century Georgian house features four elegantly appointed rooms overlooking The Holburne Museum, Camden Crescent and central Bath.

Besides the Holburne Museum, Bath also features the Jane Austen Centre, American Museum in Britain, the Haynes Motor Museum and the Fleet Air Arm Museum among others.
Pulteney Bridge shimmers in the amber glow of nightfall   (wikipedia)
At night, the theatrical scene comes to life as the city morphs into another century where time stands still in the amber lighting and soft silhouettes of history.

Baaath is a place not to be missed, at the very least for a day trip. It is also an ideal base for other exploration through England, so stay longer if you can.

After all, those early warriors didn’t call it the “roamin’ Empire” without reason.