Roman and Georgian Bath
Everything started around 850 B.C., or so the legend goes, when King Bladud contracted leprosy, was exiled to the English countryside, and became a swineherd. There, on the future site of Bath, he observed his itching pigs wallowing in warm, muddy springs and thereby healing their skin ailments. He followed suit -- and was cured himself.
Whether this tale is fact or fancy, Romans arriving in A.D. 44 did find the local folk enjoying Bath's hot mineral waters. The Romans founded the town of Aquae Solis.
For 2,000 years the reputation of Bath
has come from its hot mineral springs.
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Over the next four centuries, they transformed the natural hot springs into a bathing complex and a temple devoted to Sulis Minerva, the Romano-Celtic goddess of healing. The springs still feed the baths today, gushing a quarter of a million gallons of water daily at a steaming 116 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Romans left, and during the Middle Ages the town became a church center and wool market -- the baths were allowed to languish. But in the early 18th century, fashionable English society began coming to Bath to "take the waters" as a health cure.
A gambler named Richard "Beau" Nash became the town's master of ceremonies, the social arbiter of style and arranger of entertainments. For the smart set, Bath became the place to meet and greet, flirt, enjoy concerts and balls -- and gossip.
In Georgian times, Bath grew into an architectural masterpiece. A father-and-son building team, both named John Wood, used honey-hued stone from a nearby quarry to put together an elegant city whose Palladian style harked back to classical Roman days. Their famous Royal Crescent is a curving sweep of terrace houses fronted with Ionic columns. In the Assembly Rooms of 1771, creatures of fashion gathered to sip tea, play cards, and dance.
Visitors now get a taste of those days at the famously elegant Pump Room, which still serves tea while musicians play. Guests who are brave (or just historically curious) can sample the natural mineral water -- which, according to one report, tastes "faintly of eggs, soap, and metal."
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jerry Camarillo Dunn Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.