Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bath - How the Romans bathed and other Adventures

Ashwin and I play a game called 'Imagine' where we pose hypothetical scenarios to each other and try to imagine and share our imagination that can run wild and amok. We were on train to Bath from Reading and 45 minutes into the journey Ashwin asks me, "Imagine what would happen if everything around you turned back to 18th century, and just this coach is from the modern age."

Just when I let my imagination run wild, we entered a tunnel and one minute later we came out of it and looking out through our train window we saw every thing around had turned back into the middle ages ! No this is not science fiction and neither did we enter some worm hole nor were we dreaming. We had reached Bath- One of England's most iconic cities.
We got down at Bath station and started walking towards the city centre at about 9 AM, most of the tourist attractions were not opened and hence we decided to walk around the city centre for a hour. Bath is a city of beauty both in terms of natural and man made. The entire city of bath features in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites and is also designated as "Area of Outstanding Natural beauty" (there are 34 AONB's in England).
The Most common name for a river could be the name Avon and England only has four rivers by that name. It so happened that, when the Romans came to Britannia and asked the locals what the name of a particular river was the Locals always replied 'afon' .The Romans assumed that the afon was a long river and started calling it Avon. What the Romans did not realise was that afon was the Welsh word for river and the locals did not name their rivers but just called them afon. Hence we have so many River Avon's in England today and also we have a Photograph of Ashwin standing on the North Parade road Bridge and looking at River Avon Passing below him.

As we walked across the city we came across another bridge, this one was the famous Pulteny Bridge. Built in 1773, this is only one of the four bridges in the world which has shops across the full span on both sides.We saw a Antique shop, a flower shop and a restaurant among many other shops.
We walked across the bridge and stood admiring its beauty and wondering what kind of fish swam under it.( yeh fishing is the first thing that comes to our mind when we see any water body) The weir on the photograph below in front of the bridge was rebuilt in 1974 to control flooding of bath. The weir had to be built in such a way that it would not harm the architectural beauty of bath and they sure have achieved that objective.

Below is the Photograph of the Bridge and weir clicked later on that night.

Also close to the bridge on the bank of Avon is the Parade garden. The garden is very beautiful and is perfect place for a cup of tea or ice-cream.

We walked down the Pulteny bridge, and its nice to get a Fish eye view of the city above you, One of the buildings that you can see is situated next to the Bath market, the top of the building is designed with three different architectural styles- Does it look good? You be the judge for many it is a eye sore.

We crossed the Pulteny bridge and reached a Fountain called the Laura Place. The straight road gives an first impression of what you can expect in Bath. At the end of the road is the Holburne Museum and Sydney gardens.

It was nearly 10 after all that walking and we decided to first visit the Bath Abbey. The Abbey was built between 1499 and 1611. If you look closely at the Facade of the abbey, you can see Angels climbing up and down stone ladders commemorating a dream of the founder, Bishop Oliver King.

Once inside the Abbey we were totally smitten by the beautiful fan vaulting of the nave. (You can see it in the Photograph below )
As you approach the altar you can see this beautiful stained glass window containing 56 scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. The abbey is filled with memorials and has plenty of beautiful stained windows.

Below is the View of the abbey from the choir stand.The ceiling contains painted heraldic shields.

Below is the Pipe Organ of the abbey. Many of the medieval English churches I visited have these massive pipe organs. When Mechanically compressed air is vented through these compressed pipes a sound of a fixed pitch is produced. A combination of these different sets of pipes can give rise to notes of different Pitch, timbre and loudness.
The abbey has a Heritage Vault and looks like a underground cave , which has been transformed to a museum. The Museum traces the history of Bath from the 8th century to the present times, in the view of the abbey. In simple words- if the abbey could speak, it would have told its story just like this museums display. ( Interesting concept...hmmmm...)

We came out of the abbey and our next destination was the Roman bath which is besides the abbey. Outside the Bath, 2 street performers gave a wonderful display of some good English Humor ( which mostly includes poking fun at the French.) Ashwin and me had a good hearty laugh at the expense of some French and Germans.

One of the performer, slipped a rubber glove over his head and blew it up with air. His partner then let out a blast of fire on the ballooned glove which blew up like a bomb. If you notice the performer on the right hand bottom, you can see the pink glove bursting .
Yeh some more English humor I guess ?

And a little distance away some more performers entertaining the crowd.
Finally we entered the Roman bath- One of the Finest spa of the ancient world. Bath has Britain's only natural hot water spring. Rainwater which fell thousands of years ago in this area percolated down baths limestone hills and when deep inside the earth it was heated to steam and was pushed back to the surface as mineral water spring. Today nearly 1 million liter of water comes out of the spring every day. The Romans who could not explain how hot water came from underneath the earth, used the explanation provided by the local Celtic people- It was their Goddess Sulis who heated the water and sent it to them. Since the Romans had their own goddess similar in attributes to Sulis- Minerva. They believed the springs were made by SulisMinerva and built a temple around the sacred spring. Below is the photograph of the spring. The red colour is because of the iron content of the water and the Sulphur from the spring gives the air around the spring a weird smell.
A part of the spring water was used for the Roman spa and the rest of excess water drained into river Avon( all this happened during the 1st century.) When Rome was under attack the Roman legions in Britain left for Rome to defend her, and the spa fell into disuse. It was then slowly covered with successive years of civilizations and was Discovered by the Victorians in the recent centuries.
In the photograph above, the statues are in level with the present day Bath, the water body you see is the spa at the level Bath was in the 1st century. Successive years of reconstruction and demolitions have slowly raised the level of Bath.

These statues of the Romans were added by the Victorians.

This is the remains of the sauna room foundation. A floor used to sit on top of these bricks and hot heated air was passed underneath it. The room heated up and formed a Steam Sauna.

And for all those Romans in a hurry or those feeling Macho, after their hot steaming sauna, they would directly jump into this cold water spa. Just imagine- from 90 degrees to 10 degrees in seconds. Wow

Below is the Worm eye view of the bath, the whitish smoke on top of the green water is the fog created because the water is at 46 degrees and the air on top at 7 degrees.

From the Roman bath, we headed to the pump room, which is basically a room with a pump to pump the water from the spring. The water is potable and we had a go at it. It tasted like drinking chilled molten rust.
From the Spa we headed to the Fashion Museum, Bath has been a cultural trendsetter and fashionable haunt for the cream of the British society for the last 300 years and a fashion museum is a natural outcome of it. We walked for about 20 minutes ....
And then reached inside- Honestly since for us the only fashion is a Jeans and a T-shirt we were not too keen to try out the Corsets and the skirts in the museum ( a few ladies were seen trying though). Below are the photographs of of some 17th century gloves.

What can I say ?

Well looks like Ashwin found something interesting ...

From here our next destination was The Circus and it was just a 5 minute walk from the Fashion Museum.
The Circus is a magnificent circle of 30 houses and Plaques on the houses commemorate famous residents, one that particularly interested us was that of Robert Clive ( our high school history still follows us) there is also a plaque for David Livingstone.
The circus is divided into three segments of equal length, and is surrounded by large townhouses. Each of the curved segments faces one of the three entrances, thereby ensuring that whichever way a visitor enters there is a beautiful facade right ahead. Each of the three floors are built using 3 classical architectures (Greek Doric, Roman/Composite and Corinthian).

A short walk from the circus is another architectural marvel- The Royal Crescent. It is actually a semicircular terrace of majestic houses overlooking a private lawn and the greenery of the Royal Victoria Park. ( Queen Victoria inaugurated the park when she was a little child, she never came to Bath after that because a local newspaper reporter called her clothes "dowdy". She vowed never to see the city again, and even when her railway carriage was passing through town decades later in her reign she ordered the shades to be pulled shut!)

From the crescent we visited the house of William Herschel - the astronomer who discovered Uranus. He discovered the planet from the very garden photographed below.

The house is preserved the way it was when Herschel lived including his workshop where he made his telescopes and below is his dining room ( just the food is missing)

After the Herschel's house it was nearly 6 PM and most of the attractions were closed and we were tired. We decided to take a round in the open top tourist bus. It was a nice change of view- we finally had a birds eye view ( low flying bird ).
After that we headed to the University of Bath spa. We had booked a room in the hostel here. It was a amazing place and was a nice chance to relive our memories of hostel life. ( though these hostels were more like 3 star hotels made of glass !) This is one moment of the trip we will never forget.
We had a nice 2 hour bath in Bath and went to sleep- We had to leave for bristol the next day.
Bath is .....hmmmm.... ( cannot find any appropriate adjectives....)

1 comment:

Rachel Cotterill said...

You've got some fabulous pictures there :) My in-laws live in Bath, so I've been there more times than I can count, but since I got my new camera there hasn't been a time when we've been there in nice weather (and daylight) to take pictures. One day, though.... :)