Plus ça change
IHAD the opportunity this week to explore the delights of Bath—from its celebrated Georgian terraces to the marvellous collections of the Holburne Museum, it’s a magnificent city. The abbey, too, is breathtaking, its exquisite architecture enlivened by the improbable number of funeral monuments jostling for space on the walls. Much that I saw was familiar, but one site was a novelty to me: the eponymous baths. Pools of water, I reasoned, could hardly be worth visiting. How wrong I was. The extent and scale of the Roman remains are extraordinary, as are the finds displayed there, from the famous curses inscribed on sheets of lead to the surviving sacrificial altar of the temple complex.
The spring of water was wonderfully dramatic, gushing at 46˚C from the mouth of a Roman archway stained yellow with mineral deposits. In the intense cold of the morning, the wisps of steam from the pools it feeds were visible even from the neighbouring square. No wonder people travelled here from across the Empire. Nevertheless, it’s startling to be reminded how far they came. Isotope analysis of one skeleton suggests that the 45-year-old man it belonged to came from Syria; a Roman immigrant. JG