Aquae Sulis (Bath) Avon, England.
Situated in a meander of the river Avon on low, marshy ground, ca. 20 km from Bristol and 30 from the sea. The sole reason for a settlement in such a position is the existence of the hot mineral water spring with its healing properties.
The settlement was founded ca. A.D. 75; it flourished throughout the period of official imperial protection of Britain and probably for an indeterminate period afterwards. The principal monument to be seen today is the vast bathing establishment. Some parts were recognized during the 18th c., but it was mostly uncovered in 1878-95 and 1922-25.
The hot spring, with a wall around it, served as a reservoir which fed the various baths. The principal ones were the Great Bath (24 x 12 m and 1.65 m deep) with steps all around it and a lead-lined bottom; the Lucas Bath and a rectangular bath later filled in; and at least one other bath which was later replaced. A circular bath, 10 m in diameter and 1.4 m deep, was later inserted into the large hall of the initial construction. To these were added an elaborate series of Turkish and sauna baths, one series at each end, which reached their maximum extent in the 4th c. A.D.
The whole establishment was large and architecturally splendid, as was the other monument with which it was integrally arranged. This was the Temple of Sulis Minerva, parts of which were found when the present Pump Room was built in 1790-95; more has been discovered in excavations since 1964. This was a temple of the Corinthian order, standing on a podium within a large colonnaded precinct. It had a four-columned portico, and the cella behind covered the rear two-thirds of the podium with Corinthian pilasters bordering it. The front pediment depicted a bearded male Medusa head within a central shield bounded by oak leaves and acorns, and supported by flying winged victories on either side; Tritons filled the corner spaces. The podium proportions (2:1) were Vitruvius' ideal.
The temple precinct contained the usual clutter of altars, remains of monuments, such as a frieze of the four seasons and other friezes and pediments. Discovered in 1965 was a statue base inscribed with the name of one Lucius Marcius Memor an Haruspex, apparently an important soothsayer. Another large public building about which little is known may be a theater. This complex is unlike anything else in Roman Britain and can best be paralleled in Mediterranean Gaul.
The remainder of the settlement is comparatively unexplored, largely because of later building, but traces have been found of houses, or possibly hotels.
A bank and ditch defense was added in the middle of the 2d c. A.D., later replaced by a stone wall which stood almost intact, although repaired, until 1720. Little now survives. The enclosed area covered about 110,000 sq. m. The stone used in all construction work was the local oblite limestone known as Bath stone.
Finds from Aquae Sulis and vicinity are in the museum adjoining the Roman baths. Notable are a gilt bronze head of Minerva, presumably from a cult statue, and fine stone work from the baths and temple (including the temple pediment). There is also a fine hoard of imported intaglios.
B.W. Owen, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Feb 2006 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 90 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
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