Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Please do not climb on the Roman remains (Bath day 2)

These posts are growing rather long, probably because I'm using Blogsy on my iPad and haven't yet found a word count. Normally I would try to limit myself to 1000 words, but when I don't know when I'm growing closer to 1000 words, I don't know when to stop. I hope you're enjoying them anyway... Despite me complaining about the woes of walking. Ow. :-)

Today I go the bus down the hill into town and tried to find somewhere to drop my bags. No luck. Instead I joined the queue at the Roman Baths, which was much shorter today, and began swapping my shoulder bag from shoulder to shoulder and using all the hiking straps on my backpack. This would continue throughout the day...

If you're ever going to Bath, I seriously recommend the Roman Baths. They're the reason Bath is there, after all, and I think it's one of the best museums I've been to. You enter at modern street level, four metres above the Roman level, and look out across the Great Bath first of all. You get an audio guide that you can punch numbers into and hear all about the things you are looking at. I've always been a bit sceptical of audio guides, but this weekend I have been converted. Cardiff Castle also had them, but the Roman Baths have so many and the numbers are all mixed up so you can't cheat and sit in a corner and listen to them all in order (I may have, ahem, done this at Cardiff Castle because it was raining and my feet were sore). Audio guides mean you can look at the thing you're learning about, and your eyes don't get sore from constant reading. The trade-off is that listening is slower than reading, but I've decided I don't care.

The other awesome thing about the museum are the reconstructions, with projections of actors on the walls, and ruins cast in different lights so you can see what they look like now and what they would have looked like two thousand years ago. The original excavation here was done by the Georgians and Victorians, who you may remember weren't much for conservation of historical artefacts and instead preferred to build over them. There's some merit in this I suppose, since you get to see what things might have looked like rather than straining your imagination, but now we have better and much more evocative ways of doing this, with projections and augmented reality.

The Romans built the baths here because of four natural hot water springs, the only ones in Britain (me: they only have FOUR? In the ENTIRETY of Britain? Hmm. Think I've been a bit spoiled in NZ? Oh. Wikipedia has advised me that they have a few more, but not many and mostly luke-warm) and some of the largest in Europe. The Great Bath is huge for a natural hot spring-fed pool (according to European standards, anyway), and had a great roof over it that would have been the biggest building in Britain at the time. Beside the Great Bath are smaller baths and steam rooms for men and women, and a temple to the goddess of the spring, Sulis Minerva. Throughout the museum you see the ruins of these places, and then light projections of the places as they would have been, complete with people. Bath is a world heritage site, which means you can't do any more excavation to find more Roman ruins beneath the Georgian houses, and what's there at the moment is probably all we'll ever be able to see. They do a pretty good job of showing you what it might have been like in it's entirety, though.

When I emerged my feet were very sore, as were my shoulders. I was determined to go on the free two hour walking tour though, so I got some lunch and reported to the square in front of the baths and abbey at two o'clock. The guide was very good and told us a lot of the history of Bath. I found out that the Abbey dates from the sixteenth century, and that the Norman cathedral that was there before it was twice as big. We walked up to the Royal Crescent, so-called because so much royalty lived there, and along to the Circus where Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage currently own houses. To get to the Royal Crescent we walked along the Gravel Walk, which is mentioned by Jane Austen a few times in her books.

By the time we got back into town, my feet weren't feeling too bad, I but I was suspicious that this might be because they were numb. I made straight for the modern-day spa, which uses some of the same waters that the Romans used and is situated about on top of the ancient Temple, as far as I could tell. It was raining, but it was quite nice to float in the warm pool with old Georgian walls surrounding you and feel the rain coming down.

And we've reached the end of my trip! I'm now on the train back to London, enjoying sitting down. Hope you had a good Easter!


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