The UNESCO World Heritage city of Bath is renowned worldwide for both its historical and literary past. The city was originally built by the Romans around 2000 years ago and remains one of the best preserved examples of Roman construction in the world. Eighteenth century architectural influences are evident, as the majestic Bath Stone buildings throughout the city centre exude an era of upper class wealth and luxury. This time period is famed for the romantic literary genre and Bath provided inspiration to many authors and poets; Jane Austen is one of Bath’s most famous residents and the city is featured in both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.
Bath was established under the name Aquae Sulis by the Romans, who had an interest in the site due to the naturally occurring thermal springs. The Celts originally built a shrine to the goddess Sulis on the site, and after invasion, the Romans kept the name due to a strong resemblance to their own goddess Minerva. A temple was created and the town slowly grew around it; the hot springs were transformed into a complex system of baths which became very important to Roman society. The upper classes used the baths for both business and pleasure, and they were also an important healing remedy as the hot water was prescribed for a range of ailments. Nowadays the Baths are predominantly a museum; visitors can find out how the Roman town was established and view a number of items discovered on the site, such as coins, mosaic flooring and stone carvings. One of the more impressive collections is a number of metal ‘scrolls’, on which Romans would etch their grievances and present them to Minerva at the temple. These mainly concern the theft of clothes, with the victim asking the goddess for revenge on the perpetrator. Visitors are then taken through the remains of the Roman city where interactive displays convey how it would have looked in the past. This leads to the main baths which still flow with water from the thermal springs, and it’s very easy to imagine how it would have been in centuries past. An informative audio guide is issued on entry.
Bath became popular as a spa town in the eighteenth century, drawing wealthy visitors from across the country keen to experience the mineral rich waters. It became a leading centre of fashionable life and expanded its arts and theatre scene accordingly, with Austen describing the socialising, balls and music recitals in her novels. It is not possible to swim in the traditional baths nowadays due to health risks from the original lead pipes; however Bath has modern spas which draw the thermal springs through safer methods. The Thermae Bath Spa has a rooftop pool as well as a larger indoor one, which both maintain temperatures of 35 degrees. The spa provides an opportunity to experience the same natural springs as the Romans did, albeit in luxurious surroundings; prices vary depending on the time of day and treatments required.
The majority of Bath’s economy is centred on tourism, and there is plenty to see. Architecturally, the city has several landmark buildings, including Bath Abbey, Royal Crescent and the Circus, and the city centre is dominated by iconic Bath Stone structures. The centre is typical of most UK cities, with chain stores and restaurants mixing with independent outlets. There are several museums celebrating Bath’s history, including the Fashion Museum, the Jane Austen Centre and the Bath Postal Museum.
Whether you’re fascinated by its history or just want a relaxing break, Bath has an abundance of things to see and do and it shouldn’t be difficult to fill a few days here.