The Baths of Caracalla, Rome

Attempting to write a brief history based blog on Rome would border on madness as there is just too much history that would need to be covered. How does one cover the Forum, Colosseum, the Vatican and the endless number of ruins that just seem to pop up every time you turn a corner! For that reason I have chosen a less well-known site that to me was a highlight of my visit to Rome: the Baths of Caracalla. The Baths of Caracalla were constructed during, and following, the reign of the Emperor Caracalla. Construction began around AD 212 and were completed in AD 235. In its heyday the baths were the second largest public baths in the capital, and were often referred to as being one of the seven wonders of Rome.

They are located a short walk south of the Colosseum, and when constructed required a number of the surrounding hills to be levelled. The site covers 62 acres, with water being supplied by a special aqueduct. The baths were for much more than bathing, and it is better to think of them as being  the equivalent of a modern leisure centre, offering pools for bathing, and places for exercise, relaxation, reading, walking and socialising – albeit on a grand scale.Even before you enter the grounds you are struck by the sheer scale of the outer wall. The walls are extremely thick, and as high as 90 feet in places, giving a sense of the immense size of the complex. It estimated  that several million bricks were used in its construction, and there were at least 252 columns holding it up. You wander through room after room until you reach the main pool , which in its day would put any Olympic sized swimming pool to shame.

And all once ornately decorated, something which we can still get a glimpse of through the high quality mosaics that have survived. These were by far one of the most impressive aspects of the site, and well worth the trip.

When we visited there were maybe 50 tourists wandering through the ruins, making it perfect for getting pictures without lots of people in the background. And this at a time when we had passed literally thousands of people queueing up for a 2 to 3 hour wait to see the Colosseum. For me the Baths were very thought provoking. Having lived in Britain for years and visited the Baths at Bath on numerous occasions, it was interesting to be able to compare the two and reflect on a truly Roman practice that had been exported to the far flung reaches of the Empire. I have always held a great appreciation for the Baths at Bath, the skill in engineering and quality of the stonework. Yet, seeing the Baths of Caracalla, which weren’t even the largest public baths in Rome, really brought home that while you might be able to experience aspects of Roman civilisation and what it achieved in Britain and elsewhere throughout the Empire, the true grandeur and power of that was Rome remained in the capital itself.