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Bath is one of England's great tourist destinations, which has indeed been the case since its founding in Roman times, when people would come from far and wide to bathe in the natural hot springs which give the city its name. The Romans developed the town of Aquae Sulis as they called it, shortly after the conquest of Britain in AD 43, around the centrepiece Great Bath which can still be visited today. Bath is also a notable centre for Georgian architecture, with such examples as The Circus and Royal Crescent.

Bath is easily accessible for a day trip from London, which is exactly what I did in summer 2010, after a short drive out the M4. I found Bath to be a very attractive place, with plenty of interest for the photographer and the historian in me. The city was busy with other day trippers like me but not restrictively so, and after a few hours of exploring I was ready to move on to see some more of beautiful Somerset.

Bath's Ponte Vecchio

Pulteney Bridge crosses the River Avon in central Bath, just upstream of a parabolic weir and lock system. The bridge is one of very few worldwide to have shops lining both of its sides, another example being Florence's Ponte Vecchio.

Bath Abbey marks the centre of the city, and overlooks the Great Bath in the Roman bathing complex next door. It was founded in the 7th century, well after the Romans had left Britain.

Bath Abbey

Big thick door

Door detail of Bath Abbey. I like the chunkiness of the carved wood.

The Great Bath is one of a number of bathing pools in the complex, fed by the geothermally heated waters which bubble up from the Sacred Spring. The columns are a later addition having been built in Victorian times. The water is not safe for swimming in.

The Great Bath of Bath

Senatus Populusque Romanus

One of the statue figureheads surrounding the Great Bath, with the mark of the Roman Empire, SPQR. This stands for "Senatus Populus Que Romanus" - The Senate and People of Rome.

Bath Abbey as seen from the Roman baths. The modern street level is much higher than it was in Roman times, as indicated by how sunken the baths now appear to be.

Bath Abbey seen from the Great Bath

Reflection in the Roman baths

Reflection of Bath Abbey in the water of the Great Bath itself.

This golden bust of the goddess Sulis Minerva was one of many objects that had been thrown into the Sacred Spring, and was found again in the 18th century.

Sulis Minerva

The Gorgon's head

The original Roman temple pediment had an image of the Gorgon's head at its centre, complete with snakes for hair.

Other treasure recovered from the Sacred Spring included thousands of Roman coins, however I suspect that these ones in the frigidarium (cold pool) are somewhat more modern.

More than three coins in the fountain

Spring overflow

Flow into the baths is regulated to ensure the level stays constant, with excess water spilling over through a system of tunnels underground. Over a million litres of water rises from the Sacred Spring each day.

Inside the caldarium (hot room) the little tile columns still stand which once supported the floor and provided the space for underfloor heating by nearby fires. Stoked by slaves, no doubt.

Ancient underfloor heating

The Sacred Spring

The Sacred Spring itself is not publically accessible, but can be seen through a window. It used to be used for bathing, and the water level was kept about four feet higher, as can be seen by the residual orange staining. The curved windows are the Grand Pump Room.

Inside the Grand Pump Room is an outlet of Bath water which is safe to drink, and visitors have been "taking the waters" for hundreds of years. I gave it a try - it was very warm, tasted slightly strange and funnily enough, was literally akin to drinking bath water.

The Pump Room

Bath Street

One of the Georgian streets of central Bath, this one is actually called Bath Street. Not to be confused with the road of the same name in Glasgow.

The west entrance to the Roman Baths, fronted with Victorian architecture.

Entrance to the King's and Queen's baths.

Thermae Bath Spa

After the Great Bath was closed to bathers in 1979, there was nowhere to truly experience the waters, so towards the end of the 1990s developers began working on the Thermae Bath Spa, which finally opened in 2006. It is a combination of old and new bathing pools, and has a rooftop pool too. A ticket will set you back about as much as the similar venue Caldea in Andorra.

Water is best, says the Rebecca Fountain next to Bath Abbey.

Water is best

Queen Street

A quaint lane in Bath, this is the view looking up Queen Street.

The Circus is one of Bath's great examples of Georgian architecture, built in the mid 1700s. Three rows of gracefully curving townhouses form a perfect circle around a central grassy area. The levels are three classical orders; Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.

The Circus of Bath

Royal Crescent

Just along the road from The Circus is another of Bath's Georgian masterpieces, the Royal Crescent. It was designed by the son of the architect responsible for The Circus, and completed in 1774. The great sweeping curve of thirty townhouses is unbroken.

From the front the Royal Crescent appears as a seamless blend of housing frontage, and indeed was set up that way. Owners purchased a certain length of fašade, and were then free to build what they like behind it.

Royal Crescent

Lion and ball

As I walked back to the city centre from the Royal Crescent I came across this bronze statue of a lion and ball near the old gate to the development. Another example of the splendour of Bath.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2011-2014