Bath is a beautiful city in southern England whose elegant architecture is quite different from the modern buildings of the industrialised cities and the gabled cottage-like housing in the small towns and villages. All the streets in Bath curve like flowing water and the city’s main area is not a square but a large green roundabout.
The city gets its name from the Roman Baths around which the city has been built. Two thousand years ago, the Romans, who had invaded England built a huge bath and temple complex around the only thermal springs in UK.
The springs are formed by rain water which percolates through limestone aquifers to a depth of 2700 to 4300 metres, where natural heat raises the temperature up to 96 degree Celsius.
Under pressure, the heated water rises to the surface along the fissures and faults in the limestone below the Bath.
The history of the springs goes back 900 years before the Roman invasion of Britain, to the time of the Celts, the original inhabitants of Britain.
At that time, the water from the spring was not contained within buildings but was a hot bubbling pool of murky green, overflowing through a narrow stream into the River Avon.
Legend has it that the spring became revered for its healing powers. In 9th century BC, Prince Bladud was banished because he contracted leprosy and became a swineherd. He noticed that when his pigs wallowed in the steaming swamp, they came out unblemished. Overcoming his fear, he plunged into the waters and his leprosy was cured. Today a statue of Bladud, which was installed in the 17th century, looks benignly over the greenish waters.
In 1st century AD, an Iron Age tribe called the Dabunni ruled Britain. They revered the hot springs as sacred to goddess Sulis who had curative powers. The Romans who invaded Britain around this time conquered the south and east of England. But they believed in respecting the local deities and although they built a temple complex around the spring and dedicated it to their goddess Minerva, they called her Sulis Minerva.
Equally stunning is the head of the goddess which was found by workmen digging a sewer in 1727 AD. The body of the life sized statue was never found.
The Romans maintained the Baths and the temple complex as public service. But in the 4th century, maintenance suffered as Britain endured numerous raids of the Barbarians from Northern Europe and Ireland. Travel became unsafe and the neglected Baths finally collapsed. But hot water continued to flow through the ruins and in the 12th century a post Roman monastery was built around the site and within the original reservoir a ‘Kings Bath’ was built where people came for the water’s medicinal properties.
A huge Pump Room was constructed in the 17th century and under it, remains of the ancient temple were found.
But it was only in the latter part of the 20th century that excavations began in earnest and the Baths were restored. The restoration, the maintenance and arrangements are meticulous and make for a stunning experience for the visitors.