Dive into Bath: Exploring England's Roman Heritage
A Quick History of Bath
The location that hosts the city of Bath today has been settled since roughly AD 60, when the Romans built the now famous baths and temple on the site. Undoubtedly, the location was chosen for its hot springs, and it is more than likely that the existence of the springs was known even before the Romans settled here. During the Georgian era, Bath became an incredibly popular destination for the wealthy members of English society. Consequentially, the city today boasts several stunning examples of Georgian architecture, alongside the Gothic Bath Abbey and the Roman ruins of the baths. Today, the city continues to appeal to the famous and the wealthy, including Johnny Depp (!). In 1987, the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Roman Baths
The Roman Baths
This site, of course, is the main draw for tourists visiting Bath; the city is well known for this world-famous archaeological site. The Roman Baths gave the city of Bath its original Latin name, Aqaue Sulis. The temple and baths were constructed in honour of Sulis, more commonly known by the Romans as Minerva. The temple was originally constructed on the site, with the baths being built over the next three hundred years. The hot springs were believed to have healing powers, and the belief established Bath as a site of relaxation and luxury - a tradition that continued into the Georgian era. After the decline of Roman rule, however, the Baths fell into disrepair and were lost due to silting. The site has been recovered and redeveloped over the centuries, although the water today is considered unsafe for swimming.
Don't miss: the Gorgon's Head, the Grand Pump Room, or the bronze head of Sulis Minerva. Be sure to take a drink of (filtered) water at the end of the tour through the temple and museum. Finally, the tea room at the Roman Baths is absolutely spectacular, and is well worth a stop for a cup of tea or a piece of cake.
Bath Hot Springs
One of Bath's most famous residents of all time is undoubtedly Jane Austen, and Bath is certainly and rightfully proud of this heritage. When most people think of Bath, they think of Austen in the same beat - which is ironic, because as any Austen-ite can tell you, Jane Austen despised the city of Bath, portraying the city as shallow and vain in her works. Her disdain for the city likely resulted from her family's social status in the city - although they were by no means poor - her father worked as a wool manufacturer - they certainly lived on the fringes of upper-class society, and would perhaps have experienced some unpleasantness because of their status. Despite her disapproval of the city's stodgy upper-class reputation, Austen did indeed live in Bath from 1801 until 1806, and is known to have taken two long trips to Bath. Austen's home in Bath is still standing, although it is closed to the public because it is now privately owned.
Austen fans visiting Bath should make sure to stop at the Jane Austen Centre for a celebration of all things Jane. The tour takes guests through a house celebrating the life and times of Jane Austen, with staff dressed in period costumes. The tour lasts roughly forty-five minutes to an hour, so be sure to budget your time accordingly.
Located across the square from the Roman Baths, the Bath Abbey is well worth a stop. A religious site has stood on the spot of the Bath Abbey for well over a thousand years, although it has undergone many changes since its original establishment, with three churches having stood on the site since 757 AD. Bath Abbey has an impressive legacy, both religiously and historically, as well as being incredibly beautiful. The original king of England, Edgar, had his coronation here in 973, and this ceremony set a tradition in motion that has been used for the coronations of England's monarch until present day, right up until Queen Elizabeth II. Construction on the current Abbey began in 1499, and was not completed until roughly forty years later.
The Abbey is light and colourful, with beautiful stained glass windows letting the sunlight shine inside. Be sure to see the ladder of Angels, which is the Abbey's most famous distinguishing feature, located at the West front of the Abbey.
The Abbey was damaged during the First World War, and this damage prompted the first renovations and repairs to be done to the building since its original construction. The Abbey is free to visit, and is a calm respite from the hustle of crowds and tourists in the city.
A Day Trip from Bath: Stonehenge
When taking tours to Bath from London, a stop at Stonehenge is often included in the same tour. I have heard a lot of people say that Stonehenge is one of the most disappointing sites that they have visited during their travels, but I respectfully and 100% disagree with those individuals.
Stonehenge is an absolutely enchanting and mesmerizing site to visit. Located in what seems like the middle of nowhere, Stonehenge stands on the Salisbury Plains, and it is usually chilly and windy. Directly next to the site is an operational sheep pasture. The spot could not be more idyllic and isolated in England.
Everyone knows the mysteries surrounding Stonehenge - who built it? Maybe the Druids. Why was it constructed? Perhaps for religious or spiritual purposes; maybe it was a burial ground. Archaeological evidence suggests that Stonehenge was in use from roughly 3700 to 1600 BC - but for what purpose is not definitively known. How was it built? The bluestones were dragged over 150 miles to stand on the site where they stand today - why? The questions only inspire theories, rather than answers. One would not normally expect a site which has so little known authoritatively about it to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site, although Stonehenge was named one in 1986.
Author's Note: I usually do not take organized tours, but for convenience's sake, I booked a tour that included both Bath and Stonehenge because I was traveling with my family at the time, whereas I am usually traveling/flying by the seat of my own pants. Being slightly inexperienced in booking tours such as these, I was not as thorough as I should have been, and didn't look too closely at the reviews of the company I was booking the tour through. I don't want to slam any companies, but I do want to advise anyone thinking of booking a tour to look into the company they're booking through. Due to poor planning and an unconcerned and slightly uninformed tour guide, we lost nearly two hours of our time in Bath (which was a shame - there is so much to see and do in Bath!). Our tour was still amazing - we saw some incredible sites - but with a properly organized tour and an informed and helpful guide, it would have made paying for the tour worth it.
A journey from Stonehenge to Bath takes visitors through the Cotswolds, which are among the most idyllic and beautiful spots in the United Kingdom. Have your camera ready; the entire day spent between Stonehenge and Bath will be fraught with picturesque beauty and unbelievable experiences.