7.20.2013

Bath: when in England, do as the Romans

Bath is highly recommended. Showers are OK too. If you have functional eyes or a casual appreciation for history, you may want to go there. And you will probably find much to recommend. (Unless you're Jane Austen.) If you're a tourist, you'll find the city perfectly sized for a day-trip. If you stay for a couple days and make friends, you'll leave way too soon.

The city has lots of nice architecture that isn't anything like early colonial brick. 

Notable bits include an Abbey that has nothing to do with Abbey Road! 


Had I gone inside, I would've been a fan.

Bath also has the first semicircle in Britain!

The Royal Crescent, rumour has it, houses a Python.
By the size of the structure, it's a really big one.

But you don't go to bath to look at a crescent. You go to look at the bath. It wasn't recent, but maybe you've heard--the Romans were in England once upon a time. And when they were in England, they decided that the supply lines were getting too long to trek back to Rome for a daily bath. So they built amenities. 

Or at least they took a Celtic shrine site, and between year 60 and 370, built a temple and some baths. They left the tub.

Romans once bathed here. Possibly dyed green; certainly dead now.
 Actually the water wasn't green then. There was a big roof covering the whole thing, so that the Romans didn't have to stare at the 11th century abbey. Thanks to the roof, no algae grew in the bath, and bathing was more effective. Unfortunately, the pipes bringing in the water were made of lead. To make matters even healthier, this was a religious center as well as a spa. People with a chip on their shoulder came from all over to write petty curses in tiny sheets of lead--most commonly due to stolen swim trunks. The complainers then took the sheets and threw them into their enemies' bathwater to give them extra lead poisoning. Kidding. But they did throw the curses into the water, and sacrificed something. (If the lead curse sank, the gods heard them. If it floated, the laws of physics were obviously suspended, and someone turned into a cow.)

Cubist terra cotta warriors.
These columns used to hold up a floor, which was raised so that they could do something with the temperature. The Bath Rooms had names like frigidarium (cold bath) and caldarium (bubbling cauldron bath). Presumably the floor was not invisible then.

The really old bit pretty much cracked itself up, and the nice above ground strucure is Victorian, so you can't even stick an ankle in the water. In the museum you can see some old Roman things that have been archaeologed out of the ground. Like the Medusa.

Medusa needed a shave; Perseus obliged with a Sweeney Todd cut.
This mysterious face was discovered around the baths. It's called the Medusa because of the fashionable snakes-for-hair look. This seems bizarre to anyone familiar with Medusa, lady gorgon, who wasn't actually reputed to be a bearded lady or married to anyone closeted. This is pretty clearly a dude. But there are some other theories floating around. Something about Oceanus, a water god, or a Celtic sun god, or that time your uncle got drunk and tried to wear a Christmas wreath.

Enough about the bath of Bath. There is a city, too. And a very nice free walking tour that doesn't even want tips.

Walking tour talking point: soot.
 Fun fact: If you walk around the city of bath, you see a lot of very pretty pale stone buildings. But some eons ago when those chimneys (everywhere with the chimneys) were burning coal, there was a lot of air pollution. They hadn't invented cleaning in those days, so the city of bath used to be covered in soot and dirt. This house has been carefully left caked in dirt and soot to preserve the visual of a bygone era.

Inevitably, you'll get bored of all the pretty buildings and shops that are closed when you need them and streets teeming with American tourists. Escape on a nice river walk!

It's a nice controlled river. As you can see, the sky is more washed out than the banks. 

Not to be arch.

And don't forget Jane Austen. As I mentioned, Austen-tacious used to live here. She kind of hated her time in Bath. And by 'kind of', I mean, she agitated to move back to wherever it was that she grew up. Her parents said no--then her father died suddenly. They moved promptly back to wherever. Not that I'm suggesting anything untoward. I'm just saying that everyone ever told me to avoid the Austen museum. There is one, though. Might even be more informational than this blog post.
Post a Comment