The Roman Baths are the number one must see for anyone going to Bath. They are not only very well preserved, they are far more extensive than the street view will lead you to believe. I thought the only thing to see was the main pool, which you can partially see from the courtyard beside the Abbey. This is the most popularly photographed part of the Baths and I had not seen photos of anything else online. So, I waited until my very last day in Bath to visit and I regret my decision. If I had known how cool they were, I would have gone twice because I enjoyed it so much.
Like most historical sites in England, your entrance fee to the baths includes a fantastic free audio tour. The baths are half historical building and half museum. There are numbers for the audio guide placed around the building and you can pick and chose which ones to listen to depending on what interests you. They not only have information on the individual rooms, but also artifacts found during excavation and partial ruins brought from other areas of the city. There is an additional set of numbers for the children’s audio guide as well; and in the area around the main pool, there are actors in Roman costume that play out roles to entertain the children.
The route through the baths is laid out in a way that will allow you to see the entire exhibition, but also allows you to wander back and forth and take your time. My favourite part of the baths was a room just off of the main bath area which contains a cold plunge bath full of coins. Every few minutes, the lights in the room would dim and a projector would play a video of two men sitting on a bench outside of the pool and having an everyday conversation as they would have done in Roman times. You are not able to see the entire bath house on a regular visit, but there are special tours that will allow you to see the other parts of the site, such as the tunnels.
The museum sections of the exhibit try to recreate aspects of roman life as accurately as possible. There are drawings, maps, and video reenactments throughout the building. All of the women in the videos have complicated hair-dos, based on statues, carvings, and mosaics found in the excavation of the baths. Some of the videos are about people who were buried in the Bath area, and whose grave stones are now housed in the museum. There is also the skeleton and lead coffin lining of a nobleman who was buried in Bath. Scientists have created a replica of what they believe his face looked like when he was alive, based on his bone structure and DNA. There is also some limited information about who researchers believe he was and what his life would have been like, located in the museum.
Today, the Roman Baths are the only roman structures standing in Bath, though there are markers showing where the Roman Road would have run in some parts of the city. Much of the building has either degraded over time or was demolished to use the stone for building or to make room for new buildings. Parts of these demolished buildings were discovered during a series of excavations that took place over the course of 20th century and are now displayed in the museum. This stone featuring a gorgon is believed to have decorated the front of the temple when it was built. The surviving pieces have been mounted on the wall and a projector allows you to see what it would have looked like when it was still whole and part of the building.
In some parts of the site, the inner workings of the building have been exposed, either by the effects of time or the efforts of excavators. Where many of the floors used to be, there are stacks of clay tiles arranged evenly within the space. These tiles show which of the floors used to be heated. Hot air from a wood stove would be vented into the space underneath the floor and the smoke would have left through a chimney. While the floors, possibly made of wood, have not survived, the tiles and several things hidden under the floor have survived. You cannot walk through these areas but there are pathways and platforms built over and around them so you will be able to see them adequately.
One of the coolest features of the museum is that it has been built around in the aqueducts through which the spring water flows through to reach the baths. This aqueduct, pictured on the right, is located at one end of a room beside the main bath. The floor in the room is plexiglass overtop of where the water flows, to allow you to follow the direction of the water. The water flowing out of the aqueduct is so hot that there is steam coming off of it. At the other end of the room, there is a collection of precious stones that were found in the pools and in these aqueducts that may have been thrown into the pools, or come loose from jewelry. To this day, the water from the Roman baths overflows into aqueducts that lead to the River Avon. Fun fact: ‘Avon’ means ‘River’ so the river is literally called River River.
At the end of the tour, you can try a cup of the spring waters. This is not the same water that supplies the rest of the bath house. It comes from the same spring as the new spa around the corner and comes up at a temperature that is guaranteed to be sterile and then cooled to a temperature that you can drink. I tried the water and while it did not taste bad, you can taste all of the minerals in it which gives the water a texture. Maybe bring a mint with you just in case you do not enjoy it.