Bathing like a Roman

One of the first locals that I met here in the U.K. told me that I needed to visit Bath. “I think it’s the most beautiful city we’ve got,” he told me as we sat on the train departing from King’s Cross. So, a few weeks later I set out, unsure of what to expect. Of course, I looked up the city on Google Images, trying to get an idea of what was to come. However, when the road emerged from the hills and the city was visible before us it was completely unexpected. There was something about that view, all the houses and buildings very uniform, sprawled out on the hillside. The Pulteney Bridge, pictured below, was actually an unused design for the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy. The river Avon runs below the bridge and around the city. Parks filled with greenery and locals out for walks dot the banks of the river.

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Upon arriving, my first stop was the Bath Abbey. The cathedral, likely completed around 1160, started with John of Tours, Bishop of Wells who was granted the city of Bath. However, the majority of the building was the work of John’s successor, Bishop Robert of Lewes. You can read more about the history of the cathedral here.

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Work on what is visible today started in 1499 and was completed in 1539 under the rule of King Henry VIII. The first thing visitors see is the West front, it’s façade particularly unique because of its ladders of angels. Apparently Bishop Oliver King had a dream that inspired the two rows of angels, one ascending and the other descending. The plaza in front of the Cathedral was teeming with people. There were tourist groups, a man playing a fiddle, young children chasing each other and a man with pigeons perched on his shoulders. A young woman walked by and a pigeon took off from the man’s shoulder and nested in her hair.

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As we walked deeper into the city I began to notice the architecture. Nearly all of the buildings are built from Bath Stone, a nice golden color, especially beautiful at sunset and during the golden hour. In 1987 the city became a World Heritage Site largely due to its architectural history. Many of the buildings are in the Georgian style, which comes from Palladian, known for its symmetry and “picturesque aestheticism.”

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IMG_4112 2.JPGMost of the windows in the city are the same—they’ve got 3 panes across and 4 down. Many of the buildings sit in a crescent shape, the work of Georgian architect John Wood. The main idea behind the crescents, where three curved facades face each other, was that no matter which entrance a visitor took, there would always be a classic and architecturally pleasing façade in front of them.

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IMG_4109 2.JPGHowever, Bath’s namesake comes from its nearby geothermal springs. The Romans, around 60 AD, occupied Britain and used Bath for it’s hot springs. Dedicated to the Roman Goddess, Minerva, the Roman Bath still stands today, and a look inside is like taking a step back in time. Surprisingly well preserved, visitors can walk inside and explore the numerous hot springs. The main feature, however, is the Great Bath. You can walk around all sides of the bath, especially picturesque with the Abbey in the background.

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After finishing our Roman Bath tour, we got out of the cold and grabbed a “pasty” which I thought looked like an empanada, but is apparently a traditional British baked pastry. All the options made it hard to choose a filling, but I settled on a spicy chicken and chorizo. As I was eating it, my friend told me that the large crust on the pastry was used by miners back in the day who didn’t want to dirty their meals. Not sure if that’s true, but I thought it was interesting. As the sun began to set, the water was illuminated by the nearby lights, casting a reflective glow on the water and the Abbey was illuminated against the darkening sky.

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