The Roman BathWe can safely assume that the Roman Bath, or Thermae, is the father of our modern day spas and health clubs. Bathing in ancient Rome was not a private activity conducted in the intimacy of one's home. Quite to the contrary, it was a highly social activity where men and woman of all classes congregated at different hours to exercise, bathe, socialise, relax and even read in the bathhouses communal libraries.
During the Roman Empire bathhouses flourished. The city of Rome had 170 baths during the reign of Augustus, which increased to 900 in 300 AD. Bathhouses were considered a public facility and were built using tax money collected by the municipality. Sometimes a rich lord or emperor would build a sumptuous bath to impress his subjects and would grant them free entrance for a period of time. Generally, a modest entrance fee, affordable by all men was charged at the bathhouse. The women's fee was double and their bath time restricted to mornings, while men used the baths from the early afternoon to closing time.
Communal bathing, although frowned upon, must have been indulged in regularly in ancient Rome as various Roman emperors frequently outlawed it.
An interesting aspect of the Roman Bath was the exercise area or Palaestra (as the gym is still referred to by the Italians today) where the ancient Roman males and some females engaged in various types or muscle-building and sweat-inducing exercises like weight lifting, ball games, wrestling and boxing. Bowls, gambling with dice and various board games were available for the less energetic.
The Roman bathhouses were the height of luxury. Even the average bath had floor to ceiling mirrors, intricate mosaics and rich marble pools. The baths were the equivalent of a social club or today's shopping mall. Besides the bath and the gym, they had a library with a reading room, a snack bar, restaurants, wine and beer bars, shops, lounges, taverns and hair cutting salons. Some even had a museum and a theatre.
A typical Roman bath started in the apodyterium or changing rooms, where people would take their clothes off in small cubicles and leave their slaves to guard them. From there, they would step into the unctuarium where they had various oils rubbed onto their skin and could then exercise in one of the exercise yards or Palaestra. From there, they would generally move to the tepidarium or warm room, where they would lie around chatting with their friends, with attendants serving them snacks and drinks. The tepidarium was a transitional area and a preparation for the hot caldarium. The latter is the equivalent of a sauna or steam bath, hot and steamy with heated floors where the bathers would sweat profusely while scraping their skin with a strigil. This curved metal tool was used to remove the oils, which were used by the common people instead of the very expensive soaps, only accessible to the rich.
From the hot steaming rooms, the bathers would then move to the frigidarium where, as the name indicates, they were able to cool off and allow the skin pores to close. The frigidarium contained pools of fresh water for dipping and swimming.
After swimming, the bather would enjoy a massage and have oils and perfumes rubbed into his skin. Feeling clean and relaxed, the Roman bather then drifts through the beautiful gardens decorated with mosaics and colossal sculptures.
Undoubtedly, the most interesting feature of the Roman bath was the under floor heating, made possible by the Hypocaust system for heating the building and the pools. Thanks to the Hypocaust, hot air heated from the basement fires flowing between the bricks and concrete columns would heat the rooms. In some baths the floor would be so hot that the bathers had to wear wooden sandals to prevent their soles from being burnt.
The ancient Romans were undisputed early masters of architecture and civil planning. They are accredited for being the builders of the greatest aqueducts in the world. These refer to an intricate system of pipes, ditches, canals, tunnels, and supporting structures, which were used to transport water from its source onto a main distribution point.
Through these aqueducts water flowed to the city by the sheer force of gravity. It usually went through a series of distribution tanks within the city from which it is later transported to its final destination.
Roman aqueducts were built throughout the empire, and the remains of their arches are still seen in Greece, Italy, France, Spain, North Africa, and Asia Minor.History of bathing
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