torchlit tour of the roman baths
Europe,  UK

A torchlit tour of the Roman Baths, Bath

Every summer the Roman Baths opens its doors late into the evening to give visitors a chance to explore the ancient baths by torchlight.

Open until 10pm every July and August, an evening visit to the baths ­is something spectacular ­– having the chance to wander its halls during dusk and into the night makes the whole event feel even more special.

Where you’ll find the Roman Baths

Found in Bath’s city centre next to the elegant Georgian Pump Room and overlooked by Bath Cathedral, the Roman Baths complex is much bigger than you’d expect as the majority of the site is below today’s street level.

A visit takes you through a number of different areas before leading you to the ‘baths proper’, starting with the terrace. This is lined with Victorian statues of roman emperors and governors, carved from stone ready for the ‘grand opening’ of the baths back in 1897. What? You might ask – these are Roman Baths aren’t they? Well yes, they are, but they were actually lost to time and lay undiscovered before being found purely by accident in the late 19th century.

View of the Great Bath from the terrace. ROman Baths, Bath
View of the Great Bath from the terrace.
Roman emporer Vespian watches over Bath Cathedral.
Roman emporer Vespian watches over Bath Cathedral.

Lost for 1,400 years

And this happened purely by accident! At that time a street lined with Georgian houses covered the baths but one day one of the homeowners discovered water bubbling up from the ground in his basement. The council was called in to look into it and after digging down and eventually hitting a lead floor (the base of the main bath) they knew they were onto something special. Over time the houses were bought up so that excavation could continue and 17 years later the site had been completely uncovered.

The head of goddess Sulis Minerva
The head of goddess Sulis Minerva.
Remains of the front of the temple to Sulis Minerva.
Remains of the front of the temple to Sulis Minerva.

Life during the time of Aquae Sulis

After the terrace you go into the recently renovated museum area, which includes a number of exhibits related to the baths and roman life. Here you’re introduced to the roman town that eventually became Bath – Aquae Sulis, before learning about the baths and its attached temple, for worshippers of the goddess Sulis Minerva. You can see pieces of the temple that were recovered during the bath’s discovery and also see loads of artefacts from the time, including everything from roman ear cleaners through to the Beau Street Hoard of roman coins.

The Beau Street Hoard - roman coins
The Beau Street Hoard
roman skeleton
Meet a roman!
roman mosaics
Beautiful mosaics can be found in the museum…
roman altar
One of the altars romans would visit in the temple.

A torchlight tour of the Roman Baths

The area I enjoyed the most however, had to be exploring the baths themselves. By the time we reached this section night had fallen and so we got the full torchlight experience as we followed our tour guide through the Sacred Spring, roman saunas and pools before ending our tour at the Great Bath.

Our guide, Iain, was really entertaining and his stories had us chuckling and cringing as we heard the ‘interesting’ ways of life of the romans. He explained that the baths were the hub of the town, where everyone came to get clean, but also where people came to get the latest news, gossip and even made deals with the travelling traders.

He ran us through a visit to the baths – it usually began with a visit to the temple, before heading to the changing rooms and then moving through the sauna rooms; the tepidarium, caldarium and laconium, which are heated to different levels via roman underfloor heating, with the hottest room closest to the underground fire.

Entering the Roman Baths complex, Bath.
Entering the Roman Baths complex
The remains of a roman hypocaust system.
The remains of a roman hypocaust system.

No soap? No problem!

It was in these rooms that the romans would get clean, but they didn’t use soap. Oh no, they would actually wipe off the dirt using oil – often olive oil, unless you were rich enough to get it scented with herbs or flowers – which would be applied during a massage. As they sweated the water and oil would be scrapped off with a knife like appliance and flicked onto the floor (eww). They would then go into one of the tepid or plunge pools to wash off the last of the dirt and oil before finally being clean enough to enter the Great Bath.

The ickiest, but funniest story Iain told us was that if an important person visited the bath the workers would make a extra buck or two by scooping up their oily sweat off the floor as ladies would wait outside to buy it from them and use as face cream! That’s true fandom, huh?!

Horrible histories bring it all to life!

For me it’s the stories and the anecdotes that really bring history to life, and Iain was great at pointing out these random facts that stuck with us. During our tour we learnt that Romans were continuously poisoning themselves as they used lead in everything – from pottery to pipes and even sprinkled lead powder into wine that was souring in order to improve the taste.

He also pointed out that the lumps and bumps worn intro the floor of the Great Bath’s walkways wasn’t down to the millions of visitors that have walked the halls but actually the romans themselves as they wore leather shoes that would have nails in to give them grip. Yep, we love a good random fact here at Ladies What Travel!

Bumpy floors in the Roman Baths.
Bumpy floors in the Roman Baths.
Keri by the Great Bath
Chillin’ by the edge of the Great Bath.

Visit the Roman Baths, Bath

Torchlight tours of the Roman Baths in Bath take place throughout July and August every year and you can also make the evening even more special with a dinner package at the Pump Room if you’re feeling flush.

However, special events take place throughout the year so it’s always worth visiting http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/ to find out what’s happening during your time in Bath.

For general admission adult tickets cost £15.00 – this includes an audio guide and a free guided tour from the Great Bath takes place every hour on the hour.

 

torchlit tour of the roman baths in Bath | Ladies What Travel

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

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