Monday, February 10, 2014

Roman Baths

Last week Harry and I made a little trip to the beautiful Roman Baths. We arrived late afternoon, just as dusk was falling. I thought it was perfect, as we got to see the torches around the Great Bath, and the illuminated architecture, to their full advantage. 

I liked how the projected images helped re-create how the main pediment of the temple would have originally looked. A lot of features like this have been added to the museum in recent years, and I think it has been updated very successfully. The work to keep the museum visitor friendly, accessible and stimulating is on-going, and part of the museum was closed off during our visit for building work. I'm intrigued to see the new changes.

The pediment had some very intricate carving. I liked the swirling floral design.

This carved head of a lady, with a quite frankly bonkers hairstyle, has always entertained me.

I found these moulds for pewter objects really interesting! 

Some of the objects are surprisingly well preserved, such as this colourful mosaic. I think the animals in it are horses.

I found this carving of Luna very beautiful. I especially liked how the crescent moon behind her frames her head so perfectly, like a crown or halo. This would have been from the temple adjacent to the baths. 

One of the most famous pieces on display is this head of Minerva. I can see why, as she is very striking.

I love this section, where an overflow from the hot springs creates a gushing waterfall of steaming water. The stones the water flows over have turned orange, due to precipitation of the minerals contained in the water.

The Romans were skilled builders, and their skill in creating drainage systems is very evident at the Roman Baths. The fact that these systems are still standing, and working, after more than 1500 years, is mind boggling.

Many objects were found in or around the hot springs, perhaps thrown in as offerings to the goddess Minerva. This stunning brooch caught my eye, the design at the top is so delicate. Originally it would have had a brighter red inlay in the filigree.

Also found in the springs were coins. Lots of coins.

So many coins that there are literally stacks of them in the bottom of the display case!

It seems that not much has changed, as the Sacred Spring still glitters with thousands of coins, and many of these are recent. The human desire to give offerings of coins in return for wishes is so ancient it seems ingrained in our collective psyche. I noticed that there is now a donation box next to the Sacred Spring, to encourage people to offer their coins towards the upkeep of the Roman Baths, and deter them from throwing any more into the Spring!

Another thing that people liked to throw into the springs were curses. Written on small pieces of lead and then folded, they requested that those who had committed wrongdoings be punished. Some of them have been opened out and translated. This one was cursing whoever had stolen "Vilbia" (probably a woman), and gave a list of suspects.

The remains of the underfloor heating system for the bath complex still remain. As it was a very cold day I lamented not having such a thing at home!

So much of the original architecture can still be seen, it is really quite astonishing. It is quite a strange experience to walk on Roman paving and past Roman walls.

I really like the use of clear panels in the floor to show the more uneven architecture which would be dangerous to walk among. 

Apart from the historical interest of the baths, they are really very beautiful, especially on a cold evening. If you stand near the water you can actually feel the heat rising from it.

The water is an amazing aqua blue colour, and with the steam rising from it and the lights and buildings reflected in it, it looks incredible. There is a very peaceful feeling around the main bath.

After all that awe, it was time to be brought back down to earth by tasting the spring water. It was definitely not delicious, and I could only agree with the description given in The Pickwick Papers, that it has a taste of '"warm flat irons"'. 


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