Built centuries ago by the Romans, Bath is one of the most beautiful, historic, and visited cities in England.
The Romans came here when they invaded Britain because of the hot springs that bubble up from the Earth. The local people thought this place had spiritual significance and, when the Romans came, they too felt the same and dedicated this site to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. Despite being on the edge of the frontier, the city grew to become a major religious and cultural center. People came from all around to pray to Minerva and use the baths, which they believed had special healing powers.
After the Roman Empire crumbled, so too did the baths of Bath. Over the centuries, the Roman structures collapsed and the city was built over them. Medieval leaders eventually constructed their own baths, and pilgrims came to the hot springs in order to be healed of various ailments. But time and construction hid the original Roman structure, and all was forgotten. A new spa was constructed nearby, and life in Bath went on.
In the early 19th century, the owners of the house on top of the original baths hired a crew to find the source of water leaks and stumbled upon the ancient structure. Subsequent digging revealed the whole complex, and soon excavations were under way to unearth this historic treasure. Today, most of the structure has been unearthed, though archaeologists suspect there are still a few more buildings in the area.
The ancient Roman Baths are inspiring. Since the city is built on top of them, you enter from street level, where a terrace lets you look down into the baths, which are over 6 feet below the ground. The preservation techniques employed here are excellent, and this is one of the best-preserved Roman sites I’ve ever seen.
The audio tour, which is narrated by famed travel writer Bill Bryson, gives an amazing level of detail and information. The displays do a wonderful job of explaining the history of Bath, the Roman occupation, the significance behind all the artifacts, and the excavation process. I always hate walking away from historic sites with questions, but Bath’s displays and audio tour are so complete that I had none.
I’m always amazed by Roman engineering, especially their sewer and aqueduct system. It’s amazing that a people primitive in so many ways could build piping, heating, and sewer systems that were so complex. The history geek in me finds it all fascinating.
The city’s allure isn’t just the Roman Baths, though, but also the historic abbey, where famed philosopher Thomas Malthus is entombed, and the rest of the town. The town is beautiful, and most of the buildings are as they appeared a few centuries ago. I don’t know what architectural style they are built in, but if I had to guess, I’d say “pretty.”
One of the real highlights for me was the river in town. Parks line the Avon River, and people lounge out with picnics as the famous Pulteney Bridge overlooks this little cascade in the river. The bridge is covered with shops, and reminded me of the covered bridges in Florence.
Salisbury is still the most beautiful city I’ve seen in England, but Bath is a close runner-up.
All over England, everyone kept telling me, “Ohh, you’ll like Bath. It’s really nice.” They were right. The only thing I didn’t like was my camera battery dying halfway through my trip, leaving me far short of all the pictures I would have taken. Bath is a real gem.