The baths of a hundred years ago are barely recognizable today, which may seem an odd thing to say about a seemingly unchanging ancient monument. Indeed there is only really one part of the site that still looks the same, and that is the Great Bath itself. Much of what visitors see today on the rest of the site has been uncovered in the last hundred years; the East Baths in the 1920s, the West Baths in the 1970s and the Temple Precinct in the 1980s. The astonishing finds from the hot Spring were only excavated in 1980.
|Finds from the Spring excavated in 1979/80.|
It’s not just the baths that have changed. The interpretation of some of the key objects on the site has also changed. The great stone head on the Temple pediment, and indeed the iconography of the whole of that pediment, has been re-interpreted several times. Perhaps that’s part of the public fascination with this site; the fact that the evidence can sustain more than one interpretation, that there is scope for imagination and debate in the meaning of what you see. In 1935 that fascination led Dr Franzero, the Italian Ambassador, in writing a book on Roman Britain (which he dedicated to Benito Mussolini) to describe the pediment as ‘the most peculiar and the most complete specimen of Romano-British art’.
|The Temple Pediment as it appears today.|
There is no doubt that the setting of the Great Bath is something that has to be seen. It should be on everyone’s list of those things you do before you die. But today it makes far more sense than it did to those visitors a hundred years ago. You can now see more of the baths and Temple complex of which it formed a part, and through guided tours, audio tours in eight languages, costumed interpreters, a fantastic museum collection, models, film projections and even a sign language tour, you can gain an insight into the lives and minds of the people who built and maintained it. We’ve set out some ideas to start you thinking as you go around the site interspersed with observations, comments and explanations from Bill Bryson, Alice Roberts and our own staff. I’m sure you will have ideas of your own, and one thing we can be pretty sure about is that some of the best ideas about this site are still to come.
So my theory is that the rise in visitor numbers we have seen at the Roman Baths in the last few years is down to the fact that people can now understand it better, and because it’s such a great place they tell other people about it. In the language of the professional marketeers they have come ‘through word of mouth’…… tell your friends, or better still bring them with you.
Roman Baths & Pump Room Manager