The history of Bath is intrinsically linked with the natural hot springs that the city is founded upon. The first shrine at the site of the hot springs was built by an Iron Age tribe called the Dobunni, who dedicated it to the goddess Sulis (who they believed possessed healing powers). In 43AD Britain was invaded by the Romans and by 75AD they had built a religious spa complex on the site, which later developed into a bathing and socialising centre called Aquae Sulis, ‘the waters of Sulis’.
Using the hot mineral water that rose through the limestone beneath the city, channelled through lead pipes, the Romans created a series of chambers including the baths, ancient heated rooms and plunge pools. The baths were a huge draw and people travelled across the country to bathe in the waters and worship at the religious temple. After the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the early 5th century, the baths were neglected and fell into disrepair, before being destroyed by flooding.
In the 17th-century, doctors began to prescribe the drinking of the thermal waters for internal conditions and illnesses. The first Pump Room opened in 1706, allowing patients to access water directly from the spring – it’s now a beautiful restaurant!
It was in 1878 that Major Charles Davis – the city surveyor architect – discovered the Roman remains of the baths, and worked to uncover these over the next few years. The site was opening to the general publics in 1897 and has been excavated, extended and conserved throughout the 20th century. In 2011, the Roman Baths completed a huge £5.5 million redevelopment, to help with accessibility and to preserve it for the next 100 years.
The baths, and the accompanying museum which houses artefacts from the Roman period, attracts over one million visitors a year, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in England.
Roman Baths, Abbey Church Yard, Bath, UK, +44 1225 477785