Long Live Sulis Minerva!

Trip Start May 31, 2006
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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Ed and I think that every little event is worth celebrating.  This time around, it was no small thing: Ed landed a job as a Network Administrator (thanks Uncle!) which of course not only means double the money, but also doing what he loves (telecoms geek!!).  So since he changed jobs, he had to return the van his previous employer had given him leaving us with no vehicle for weekend trips.  We decided right then and there that this was unacceptable and we set out to treat ourselves with a new car.  We found the perfect little Rover within our price range and didn't take too long to decide to bring it home with us.  
 
So for the celebration, we took the car out for a stroll to the nearby city of Bath. I had been nagging Ed to go since we arrived in the UK, ever since I saw the amazing pictures of the Roman baths and classical architecture.  
 
Turns out Bath wasn't so nearby after all, but with the help of the GPS we made our way easily.  It was truly one of the finest and sunniest days we had seen so far, and even though there was a cloud or two, this was perfect for English weather
 
We were stunned as we entered the old city.  It was like nothing we'd seen in the UK so far.   The buildings and general architectural styles were nothing like the brick English townhouses or the Victorian farmhouses so typical outside of London.  Here we were able to see fine examples of Georgian Architecture like columns with volutes and acanthus leaves, hipped roofs, and double chimneys.  No wonder this was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
 
We parked the car and began walking towards the centre of the city, eagerly looking for the old Roman Spa.  The old buildings were magnificent, still holding on to its 18th century grandeur.  Bath had been a city of the rich; one only had to look around at the baroque-like stone carvings and details in the structures to realize it.  We walked through a gallery of Ionic columns and hanging flower vases towards the baths in the bustling center of the City. 
 
Street vendors and market stands were laid out in the square where the small but delicate Abbey stood.  Cafés with little tables in the sunlight were perfect for a morning coffee overlooking the abbey and the roman spa.
 
The entrance was 13 pounds and before cheapskate Ed could start complaining, I assured him it would be worth every penny.  We entered the galleries which overlooked the baths down below.  A rectangular pool of lime-green water glistened in the sharp noon sun, just as it had in the photographs I had previously seen.  From our audioguides, I was amazed to learn that this place had actually been first occupied by Celts.  There were many natural hot water springs located in this area so they built a shrine dedicated to the goddess Sulis, whom the Romans later identified with Minerva because of their similar characteristics.  After Roman occupation, the city was renamed Aquae Sulis, meaning "waters of Sulis".  
 
Even though the Romans conquered most of Europe during their time, they were smart enough to allow the conquered people to keep their language, culture and religion instead of imposing their own upon them.  This is how the deity Sulis Minerva, a combination of the Roman and Celtic goddesses, was born.  
 
The Romans are well known for their love of water, so they turned the Celtic shrine into a great bath house and spa.  But what made this roman bath different from any other in the Empire was that it ran with hot spring water, and since these waters were considered sacred, a temple was built too.  Roman social life was centred on the bath houses where even political decisions were made amongst dignitaries.  Once a visiting Germanic leader asked a Roman official why they insisted on bathing once everyday, and the Roman replied "Forgive me, I have not the time to bathe twice".  
 
Sulis Minerva reigned in Bath until the Roman Empire fell, but in medieval times the remains of the thermae were used to cure common ailments of the time like leprosy.  The temples dedicated to the ancient water deity were turned into Christian churches and chapels.
 
Many additions were constructed upon the old roman baths, and most of what we see today is the 18th century Georgian styled shell to beautify the hot spring baths to the liking of England's rich and famous.  
 
With the Abbey's spires in the background and the continuous flight of the doves and pigeons overhead, walking around and observing every tiny detail of the place was incredible.  We followed the arrows to the museum below which held archaeological findings such as colourful floor tiles in the shape of dolphins and sea horses, coins from every era found as offerings to the goddesses, jugs, curse tablets, bronze statues and even sacrificial pillars. We were able to see the old part of the roman courtyard which had been found under millennia of construction and additions.   
 
We continued exploring other pools of hot spring water.  It was hard to believe that millions of tons of water rushed up from the earth and into these pools every single day for centuries.  Heated by the earth's crust, the water returned to the surface enriched with every mineral known to man.  If you look close enough, you can see little bubbles surfacing.
 
We passed the sacred pool from where the water was believed to be the purest.  Here many people had sat and contemplated their sorrows, asking the goddess for help and listening for replies in the gurgling of the bubbles.  
 
In some parts of the pool, sediments of a reddish-brown color amounted in a corner.  At first sight they looked like plain grime but the audio guide said that it was actually an excess of iron, and that even though the water looked murky as a whole, it was absolutely clean and clear if you were to pour yourself a glass.  It was the minerals that gave it its rich color.
 
There was another pool which shimmered with thousands upon thousands of coins.  These were all modern coins, of course, from people making wishes....not too different from asking the goddess for a favour.  It was comforting to see that even though beliefs change, customs sometimes stay the same.  
 
The trail finally led us to the source of the baths: from where the water rose from the earth and poured into the thermal pools of rejuvenating and healing water.  Amazingly enough, the water was so hot that it emerged with a thick vapour, and just by standing there for a few minutes you could feel the intense heat.
 
Ed and I rested for a while in the lower level of the main pool.  As sat near the edge of the pool and wondered why public bath houses don't exist today.  Even though we know them as spas, they still lack the regular availability to come everyday and relax after an eventful day as the Romans did.  I guess our bathtubs will have to do then.
 
Our tour ended with a visit to the Pump Room.  An elegant Georgian styled restaurant overlooking the main bath had a beautiful water fountain from which you could get served a complimentary glass of hot spring water.  Ed and I asked for a glass each, which I can now say was a mistake.  The water tasted absolutely horrid, and the fact that it was served at 47 degrees Celsius didn't help.  I thought about all the natural minerals and gulped it down as if it were cough medicine.  Ed didn't seem to have too much of a problem with his glass but when we left, we both had the taste of iron in the back of our throats for the longest time.  At least now we won't get leprosy.
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Comments

mattcharlotte
mattcharlotte on

Public spas
There is a public spa in Bath. It is just 100 yards from the Roman Baths. It is a new facility which uses the natural warm spring water just as the Romans did. There is an amazing rooftop pool where you can bathe in the water and enjoy the city views.
The spa was paid for by the local council and lottery money (ie public money) and is now run by a private company. You can stay for two hours for £20. There are also lots of different and amazing sounding treatments, which cost extra but are really worth it - massages, dry flotations, and Watsu which is a Shiatsu massage in the warm water and is really incredible. It is called Thermae Bath Spa. Check out the website: www.thermaebathspa.com

uncle_davros
uncle_davros on

Beers
I'm still waiting for the thankyou beers !!! Who else will look after you !!!

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