Sunday, April 19

Aquae Sulis

We visit Dave and Tabitha in Bath this week end, and Saturday morning visit the Romans (several joke: "taking in the waters, are you?"). Sonnet and I saw the baths maybe ten years ago and the kids now old enough to appreciate their heritage, for Pete's sake - but complaining we do here. Since '98 or '99, the ruins have been upgraded including a most excellent acoustical guide; I learn: Britain's only hot-springs originate in the Mendip hills, about two miles from the spa, from rains that fell over 10,000 years ago. The water collects and descends 3,000 feet where it is filtered through limestone and heated to 75C by the earth's core; the ensuing pressure forces the liquid gas upwards through rock until it finds a break - three springs the outlet for roughly 1.3 million litres of water a day which bubbles forth at 45-47C. The early Romans marvelled at the hot-springs and attributed it with spiritual meaning; they converted swamp-land into a temple by 70 AD and a bathing complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years (pictured). During the Roman occupation of Britain, and possibly on the instructions of Claudius, engineers drove oak piles into the mud to provide a stable foundation and surrounded the spring with an irregular stone chamber lined with lead. In the 2nd century, the spring was enclosed within a wooden barrel-vaulted building, which housed the three baths: hot, warm and cold. This an engineering marvel and most certainly the largest building known to Britain and must have been simply awe-inspiring. After the Roman withdrawal in the first decade of the 5th century, the baths fell into disrepair and were eventually lost due to mud. They remained buried under 20 feet until "discovered" in the 18th century and restored today.

Part of the Roman fascination stems from places like here - the springs offered a place of worship where animals slaughtered and sacrificed to the Gods .. meters from where men and women bathed together naked and no doubt cavorted. Imagine today attending church or synagogue in racy clothing let alone nude. Or humping right next to the religion. It remains ever difficult to reconcile these two visions of the ancients.

Did you know that a European cow receives £2.50 a day or a sum > than 75% of Africa wage-earners?