The Roman Baths, which form part of the Bath World Heritage Site and which gave this beautiful city its name, receive more than one million visitors each year. The complex, built on hot springs discovered by the Celts, comprises the well-preserved Roman Bath House, the Sacred Spring, a Roman Temple and a Museum which displays a myriad of finds from the baths – including artefacts thrown into the Sacred Spring, presumably as offerings to the goddess Sulis Minerva, to whom the temple is dedicated. A gilt bronze head of the goddess, found at the site in 1727, is also displayed in the museum and is one of the best known discoveries from Roman Britain. It is larger-than-life-size and the original statue from which it came must have been an imposing sight.
The temple is the oldest structure on the site, built in 60-70AD, with the rest of the complex slowly taking shape over the next 300 years. It’s a site that has gradually evolved in more recent times too, incorporating a grand concert hall originally built by JM Brydon in 1897, which is now the visitors’ entrance. This relatively modern exterior hides its treasures well as the Baths themselves are below street level.
The days of public bathing at The Roman Baths are long gone, but despite not being able to enter the water, visitors continue to enjoy this atmospheric attraction where they will be instantly transported back almost two millennia amid the steaming waters and Roman artefacts.
The experience is heightened during a visit in the summer months. With the site open until 10pm during July and August, you can enjoy the romantic torch-lit ambience of the Great Bath and avoid the crowds. As darkness falls, the ruins of this vast Roman building are an awesome sight. By the light of flickering torches, you can walk on 2000-year-old pavements, occasionally passing people dressed in Roman attire, creating a truly magical atmosphere.
The Roman Baths, Abbey Church Yard, Bath, BA1 1LZ. Tel: 01225 477 785. www.romanbaths.co.uk