An adventure in time (part 4/7)

11 July 2008: Bath and Wells

Continued from part 3

“What have the Romans ever done for us?”

“… apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order …”

Monty Python, Life of Brian

Today was my very first Real Roman Ruins, at the Roman baths in Bath. I was so excited! My favourite period of history is ancient Rome, especially Vespasian’s time (around 79 AD – volcano day!) He was one of the more progressive emperors. One of my treasured possessions is a coin, a silver denarius, from that time. I can hold something human-made 2000 years old in my hand – and it’s an awesome feeling.

I spent ages listening to the audio tour, and pondering the significance of everything – the hot water itself, still bubbling up from the sacred spring and steaming after thousands of years …

Roman-built baths in Bath, UK

The green in the water comes from algae in the water; the statues on the top are a Victorian addition, and only the lower part is originally Roman-built

… the conversion of the spring to a bath site by the Romans in about 64 AD, the remains of the statue of Sulis Minerva to whom the baths were dedicated …

Head of statue of Sulis Minerva, excavated in Bath

Ave (“be well” or “hail”), Sulis Minerva – the life-size head is only part of the statue found

… the stone carvings, like this one from the front of the temple …

Stone carving from the front of the Bath Roman temple

Sun god or protective gorgon? Note the little owl, symbol of wise Minerva, on the bottom right

Luna, the moon goddess, stone carving at the Roman baths, Bath, UK

Luna, the moon goddess, stone carving excavated from the site of the Roman temple at Bath

… the excavated artefacts on the walls of the museum …

One of the lares excavated at Bath

One of the lares (Roman household gods, also below) excavated at Bath

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… the whole site is just wonderful! There’s a large model of what the original temple and spring site probably looked like.

Tourists can spend 45 pence (AUS$1) and get a drink of the water at the Pump Room (a posh tea house), but I guessed it would again be quite mineralised and not so pleasant, so I gave it a miss. Others in the group who went there for tea and cake confirmed that. I’m not so into posh modern tea houses, anyway, and preferred to spend the time exploring.

I spent a very satisfying morning at the museum and Roman ruins, trying to get into the ancient Roman mindset. After that, it would take something really special to knock my socks off, but, moving ahead in history, Bath Abbey (500 years old) did just that – actually being inside one of the most spectacular gothic cathedrals is mind-boggling.

Bath Abbey exterior

Bath Abbey exterior – note the flying buttresses

Archaeologist Francis Pryor has a post and close-ups of the ‘ladders to heaven’ (above left and right of the entrance) built in the 15th century.

Bath Abbey interior

Bath Abbey interior – photos do not do justice to actually being there

Detail of Bath Abbey ceiling

Detail of Bath Abbey ceiling

As well as marble tombs with sculptures of the famous people whose skeletons they contain on top, there are wall plaques commemorating worthy people …

Marble plaque venerating the woman on the left, Bath Abbey

The woman on the left apparently deserved this plaque as she was admired for protecting her husband (centre) from various problems

The exterior architecture, the inside ceiling and columns rising to the heavens, and the marble carvings on the inside walls were all awesome. I fell in love with gothic architecture then and there!

And even that was just about outdone by Wells Cathedral, where we went next. But not before a quick zoom around Bath.

The city of Bath is lovely – buildings made of beautiful local sandstone, with so much history and architecture over such a long time period. I want to go back and spend much more time exploring. Medieval streets have been preserved …

Medieval street in Bath

Medieval street in Bath

There are many fine example of architecture, such as the Circus, begun in 1754 …

The Circus, Bath

The Circus, Bath

Circus carvings, Bath, UK

Details of the fine carvings on the Circus

I had a quick pastry lunch at the Guildhall Market (begun in 1189), walked on the Pulteney Bridge (over the River Avon) where little shops have lined both sides of the bridge for hundreds of years, and saw the Royal Crescent (1767). Jane Austen lived and wrote in Bath, and there’s a museum commemorating her.

Nearby Wells Cathedral is another splendidly gothic building and by now I had run out of superlatives. We went to evensong there and the choir was from, of all places, St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney.

Wells Cathedral exterior

Wells Cathedral exterior

Detail of front of Wells Cathedral

Detail of front of Wells Cathedral

Interior of Wells Cathedral

Interior of Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral exterior

Wells Cathedral exterior

Building of Wells Cathedral started in 1180 and took 250 years to finish. Unfortunately we were there too late in the day to have much of a look around before closing time, so I missed seeing the two sheila-na-gigs inside the cathedral. I had seen quite a few in Ireland, but didn’t realise they were in England, too. It’s interesting that these pre-Christian symbols are incorporated into many churches.

I’d love to have had more time to wander around Wells. There was a medieval market square with its little gothic spire and lots of lovely old buildings: residences, shops and pubs.

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Phew – what a day! My favourite combination of discovering things I’ve only heard about and finding they more than surpassed my expectations. More to look forward to tomorrow!

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One Response to An adventure in time (part 4/7)

  1. Pingback: An adventure in time (part 5) | A-roving I will go

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