Before we visited Bath, we thought we were going to walk into a city with Roman ruins dotted around and normal modern buildings everywhere between.
We were very very wrong.
Bath is *beautiful*. But in a completely unexpected way. It’s a Georgian city, meaning that most (i.e. 80%) of the architecture was built in Georgian times with Bath stone. It’s everywhere. And it’s amazing.
The whole city is a World Heritage site, so any building built there now has to fit to a strict Georgian architectural style. There are so so many lovely sights in the city, but the first order of the day was a walking tour to explore it all.
One of the key architectural sights we were shown were the Royal Crescent and The Circus. The Royal Crescent is a semi-circular terrace of majestic houses overlooking a private lawn and the green sweep of Royal Victoria Park. They’re stunning, and cost at least £3.5 million to purchase. They were designed and built in the 18th century
Now, as it happens, the B&B we booked into was on the road joining this Royal Crescent with the next major architectural site in Bath, the Circus.The accommodation was a bit run down, but gave a good service and full english breakfast each morning. Can’t complain. But back to the architecture – The Circus was designed by the same architect who did the Royal Crescent – John Wood the Younger. It’s 30 houses in groups of 10 around a area with trees. They’re striking and so detailed. Wonderful.
But of course, the real reason we wanted to go to the Bath was for the Roman Bath house. And it was fairly impressive. In Roman times, ground level was 22ft below the current ground level of the city. The structure above ground you can see was built in the 18th century on top of the original Roman ruins.
People would swim in the baths from Roman times all the way to the 1970s. Then health and safety kicked in, and the baths were closed for swimming. There is a super fancy modern bath house down the road, but it costs £22 for a 2 hour visit, if you’re keen. We decided we weren’t – we were in for the old stuff! The old Roman wobbly floors and worn away steps, benches and pillars were wonderful.
The Bath house was originally part of a much larger facility. They were adjacent to a large temple to the goddess Minerva, the goddess responsible for the healing waters. Various remnants of the temple and decorations of the bath house have been found from previous excavations, but what’s exciting is there is still much more to be found under the modern Bath. These are some remnants of the face of the temple that was excavated.
The museum associated with the bath house is *full* of legible tombstones, lead curses (given to the gods to ask for justice against possible criminals), various coins from different parts of the Roman empire, fragments of walls and much more. The ticket entry came with a very detailed audio guide that described every half meter of the museum and the various rooms of the Bath house.
Off the east and west sides of the main bath are a series of smaller bath and steam rooms, though they’re dry now. The steam rooms are pretty neat, as they had a raised floor on stacks of bricks where a furnace would pump hot air underneath. The romans had under floor heating!
They’ve only excavated a small area around the bath house – they need funding and approval to continue to excavate the rest of Roman Bath from under the modern day streets. Will be very exciting to see what they dig up!
After seeing the Roman Baths, there were 2 things left to do. One was to have a cup of tea in the famous Pump Room, where all the socialites of the 18th century would have tea after their morning swim in the baths. It’s a beautiful spacious room with a classical pianist in the corner and over a dozen different kinds of teas and sides on order. We just got some plain scones with either English Breakfast or Assam tea. Lovely.
The final sight to see in Bath was the central Bath Abbey – right next door to the Roman Bath house. It was built in 1499 (after Canterbury and Peterborough cathedrals but before King’s College chapel) and has quite a lovely story to it. It used to be a Norman church which fell to ruin. Then a Bishop called Oliver King had a dream to rebuild the church in its current form. The dream is commemorated on the west facade of the abbey, with angels climbing up and down ladders to and from heaven.
The inside of the abbey was quite different to other churches we’d been to before because the floors and the walls we *covered* in monuments and tombstones. Bath didn’t have a cemetery, so everyone was buried under the stones of the abbey. One of the few names we recognised in all the walls was Admiral Arthur Phillip, who was founder of Australia’s first penal settlement and the first Governor of New South Wales.
Bath was a completely unexpected beauty, and city I’d recommend anyone coming to the UK should see. Next time, I’ll take my togs and go for a dip in the modern Thermae Bath Spa.