Central section of the southern side of the baths
While the body enjoys the sunshine in the gardens of the baths, the mind goes to the time when the ancient Romans wandered there. A vivid sketch of what went on at a small bath establishment can be found in a letter written by Lucius Annaeus Seneca. He was a philosopher of the Ist century AD, who was entrusted with the education of Emperor Nero. Later on he became one of Nero's advisers until he was charged with having plotted against the young emperor. He was ordered to commit suicide, which he did by severing his veins in the presence of his wife and his friends (see a painting by Peter Paul Rubens - it opens in another window).
Beshrew (curse) me if I think anything more requisite than silence for a man who secludes himself in order to study! Imagine what a variety of noises reverberates about my ears! I have lodgings right over a bathing establishment. So picture to yourself the assortment of sounds, which are strong enough to make me hate my very powers of hearing!
When your strenuous gentleman, for example, is exercising himself by flourishing leaden weights; when he is working hard, or else pretends to be working hard, I can hear him grunt; and whenever he releases his imprisoned breath, I can hear him panting in wheezy and high-pitched tones. Or perhaps I notice some lazy fellow, content with a cheap rubdown, and hear the crack of the pummelling hand on his shoulder, varying in sound according as the hand is laid on flat or hollow. Then, perhaps, a professional comes along, shouting out the score; that is the finishing touch.
Seneca - Moral Letters to Lucilius (an epistolary philosophical treatise) - LVI - On Quiet and Study - Translated by Richard Mott Gummerer.
Western Apodyterium, the hall where bathers changed and left their clothes
Add to this the arresting of an occasional roisterer or pickpocket ... (Seneca)
Access to Caracalla's Baths was subject to a small payment, perhaps one as, the lowest valued coin. The process of payment helped in preventing the access of notorious thieves to the establishment, yet the most affluent visitors came with a slave who watched over their clothes. They warned him: Ne addormias propter fures (do not fall asleep, because there are thieves around).
Those who did not have a slave could ask a capsarius, a servant at the baths, to watch over their things. An inscription found at the baths of Afrodisias, sounds similar to warnings at many modern hotels: He who does not inform the warden of the money he leaves in his clothes, cannot complain (if it is stolen).
Ruins of the calidarium (hot room)
(Add to this) ... the racket of the man who always likes to hear his own voice in the bathroom, or the enthusiast who plunges into the swimming-tank with unconscionable noise and splashing. Besides all those whose voices, if nothing else, are good, imagine the hair-plucker with his penetrating, shrill voice, – for purposes of advertisement, – continually giving it vent and never holding his tongue except when he is plucking the armpits and making his victim yell instead. Then the cake-seller with his varied cries, the sausage-man, the confectioner, and all the vendors of food hawking their wares, each with his own distinctive intonation. (Seneca)
Laconicum (?) the hottest room of the baths where visitors had sweating sessions (similar to a dry heat sauna)
The design of Roman baths was energy conservation conscious and all the hot rooms were placed in the south-western part of the establishment so that their heating could be facilitated by being directly exposed to the sun. The natatio (low depth swimming pool) which was located behind the hot rooms was not roofed to let appropriately situated bronze mirrors convey sunbeams on it.
View of the gardens from S. Saba (or Little Aventine) hill. "Terzo Paradiso" (Third Paradise) is a work of art by Italian sculptor Michelangelo
Pistoletto who has rearranged broken columns and capitals to form the symbol of his "new world"
(more on this - external link - it opens in another window)
The establishment included a very large terrace with gardens where visitors to the baths walked and chatted with friends. The current set up of the area is not very different from the ancient one, at least in purpose, because pine trees were not as fashionable in ancient Rome as they became in the XXth century (see a page on the Pines of Rome).
Ruins of large buildings at the western (left) and eastern (right) ends of the gardens
The establishment included some other facilities which were located at the edge of the gardens. The precise identification of their purpose has not been easy, but archaeologists believe they included Greek and Latin libraries, an auditorium for musical or poetry contests, warehouses for storage of oil, perfumes, pumice stones, clay and other materials used in the baths and a series of cisterns. The water came from a branch of the aqueducts along Via Latina which crossed Via Appia at Arco di Druso.
(left) Eastern palaestra: holes for beams; (centre) Natatio: water pipe; (right) top of the external wall
The remaining imposing walls are just the skeleton of a more complex structure which included wooden balconies and passages, water pipes and underground furnaces with tubes inside the walls which distributed the heat. The walls themselves had an appearance different from the current one because they were faced with small red bricks. These can still be seen on some high points because elsewhere they were peeled off to be utilized in the defensive walls built by Pope Pius IV around the Vatican and by Pope Urban VIII on the Janiculum. You may wish to see a page on Roman Construction Techniques.
One of three very long parallel underground passages, now used for displaying decorative material found in the baths
At Carthage the ruins of the Roman baths show a maze of impressive underground structures. At Caracalla archaeologists have excavated the gardens and found three underground passages which linked the eastern and western ends of the establishment. They could have been utilized by carts to carry materials to the main building. A mithraeum was identified at the end of one of these underground passages. It was probably built and attended by slaves or servants who worked at the baths.
Fragments of marble friezes
After the Greek-Gothic War during which in 537 the aqueducts were severely damaged, the baths were regarded as a quarry for centuries and were deprived of all their decoration. Yet modern excavations have found fragments of a long marble frieze which embellished the eastern palaestra; some of them have been placed back on the walls, while others are on display in the underground passage.
Capitals portraying Hercules (left) and Minerva (right) which were found in the frigidarium (cold room)
The main halls of the baths were decorated with high columns of Egyptian granite, similar to those which can still be seen inside S. Maria degli Angeli. In 1562 a still standing column was donated to Cosimo I, Duke of Florence. It was moved to Florence in the following year and placed at the end of Via Tornabuoni where it supports a statue of Justice - it opens in a separate window.
The column which was donated to Duke Cosimo was still at its original location most likely because it was too big to be moved when in the XIIth century many columns of the baths were utilized for the reconstruction of S. Maria in Trastevere. Some capitals in the Cathedral of Pisa came from Caracalla's Baths too.
Piazza Farnese: one of two basins from Caracalla's Baths which was used for a fountain in the XVIth century
I shall change from my present quarters. Why need I be tormented any longer, when Ulysses found so simple a cure for his comrades even against the songs of the Sirens? (Seneca - a reference to Ulysses bidding his men row past the Sirens as quickly as possible).
Floor mosaic found in 1824-27 in an exedra in the garden (now at Musei Vaticani)
The image in the background of this page shows a detail of a mosaic in the eastern palaestra.
Other Days of Peace pages:
A Sunny Day in Villa Borghese
At the Flea Market
At the Beach
Voicing Your Views ..... and feeling better
Christmas in Rome
Celebrating the Foundation of Rome
A visit to Roseto di Roma
The procession of La Madonna de Noantri
Running the Marathon
Watching the Parade
Finding Solace at the Protestant Cemetery
Attending 2007 July Events
Rome's Sleepless Night
Attending Winter Ceremonies
Jogging at Valle delle Camene
Sailing on the River to see the Bridges of Roma
An October Outing to Marino
A Special Spring Weekend
Embassy-hunting in Parioli
Attending a Funeral ...and enjoying it!
Celebrating Eritrean Michaelmas in Rome
Visiting Rome at Dawn
Visiting Rome in the Moonlight
Visiting Rome on a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus
Visiting Multi-ethnic Rome
Playing in the Snow at the Janiculum
Watching the Pride Parade
Reading Memoirs of Hadrian at Villa Adriana
Visiting the Movie Sets at Cinecittà
Looking up at the Ceilings of the Vatican Palaces
Spending the Last Roman Day at St. John Lateran's Cloister
Reading Ovid at St. Peter's
Walking the Dog at Valle della Caffarella