City of Bath

(51.42 N 2.33 W) -- satellite image

The Roman baths gave the town its name. Founded in 75 AD, the baths are one of the most celebrated Roman sites in Britain, constructed for pilgrims visiting the temple of Sulis Minerva, which was built around a sacred hot spring. They were forgotten and buried in rubble until the 18th century, when workmen uncovered a bust of Minerva, which led to their re-discovery.

The baths, which during medieval times were bawdy locales full of jeering spectators, were transformed in 18th-century Georgian times by socialite Beau Nash together with entrepreneur Ralph Allen and architect John Wood. The contributions of these three men give Bath today its unique feel. Today, the baths are closed for bathing - although the hot water still flows. Visitors can sample the hot spa water, which emerges at 46.5 degrees C (116 degrees F.).

Other town sites include Cross Bath on Bath Street. It was named in honor of a cross erected here (it has since been removed) after Queen Mary, the wife of James II. Fighting infertility, she bathed in its waters and later became pregnant. Looming above the pool is a statue of Bladud, the legendary 8th-century founder of Bath. Banished from the court because of leprosy, he became a swineherd. His pigs also contracted the disease but were cured after bathing in mud on this site, which Bladud himself decided to imitate. A cured man, he returned to the court and became king, and the Cross Bath became the one most favored by nobility.

Two interesting buildings are the Circus and the Royal Crescent. Built by John Wood the Elder, the Circus was inspired by the Roman Colosseum and consists of 33 houses divided into groups of 11 with streets entering at three points. Each house, once populated by the leading artists, displays three types of architecture: Doric (first floor), Ionic (second floor), and Corinthian (third floor). Friezes with 513 different motifs adorn the Doric columns, and a series of acorns runs along the top.

The Royal Crescent, thought to be the most impressive building of its type in Europe, consists of 30 houses with 114 Ionic columns overlooking an enormous lawn. Again, Wood made the plans, but his son executed them. A tiny wall known as a ``ha-ha'' has been built into the lawn to keep cattle from straying too near the building, but was constructed in such a way that it cannot be seen from the top of the Crescent.


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Lynn Salmon <>{

Last updated: August 25, 2009