INTRODUCTION TO THE
CITY OF BATH
|One of the most beautiful cities in
Europe, Bath has been a popular resort for almost two thousand years. A combination of the
hot springs, whose source still baffles geologists, and a taste for fashionable pleasure
has secured the city's success.
One of the oldest stories about the healing powers of
the water date back to the ninth century BC when the son of an English king was cured of
leprosy. Due to his illness, Bladud had been expelled from his father's court and
had become a swineherd. While watching his pigs, who also suffered from the disease, he
realised that they had been cured after wallowing in the warm muddy swamps. He followed
their example and was cured. Later, he was crowned king and built the city of Bath
upon the swamp which had cured him.
The Romans, after occupying Britain, were quick to build their own Baths and like most efficient colonial powers integrated local customs with their own. They combined the name of their goddess with the local deity to create the goddess Sulis Minerva, naming the city after her - Aqua Sulis in 43AD. They believed the waters would cure all manner of ailments and thus attracted thriving commerce. One of Bath's biggest thrills is to walk back in time and explore the extraordinarily complete roman baths, to marvel at the sophisticated underfloor heating (hypocausts), and soak up the minutiae of Pax Romana. For a comprehensive essay on the Roman Baths follow this link.
During the Georgian period (1714 - 1830), Bath became the focus for out of London activity, and Kings, Queens and commoners alike bathed in the waters; a trend to some extent instigated by the visit of Queen Anne in 1702/3.
Three figures are credited with making Georgian Bath into the place to visit. The Architect John Wood who planned and built the palatial streets, the entrepreneur Ralph Allen who provided much of the money and stone to build them with, and Richard 'Beau' Nash, the master of ceremonies who managed the balls in the buildings they built; including the Assembly Rooms and the Pump Room.
The Georgian period architecturally now accounts for Bath's enduring beauty, as their terraces, follies, parks and crescents remain a testament to their collective wealth and taste. But when these buildings are animated further by the readers imagination, when characters vividly promenade Great Pulteney Street discussing the events of the previous nights ball, then a fourth builder of Bath must be acknowledged - the author Jane Austen, in whose novels another Bath life maybe glimpsed.
Today Bath is a city whose heritage is protected by law, but whose heart burgeons with life and modernity. While Bath has given its name to the Bath Oliver, Bath stone and the Bath Chair, its 90,000 residents now enjoy the 25 galleries, 4 cinemas, 3 theatres, and a full calendar of non stop festivals and events. To experience Bath at its best is a little like having time laid out before you in a glorious spectrum; each period is distilled but seems so alive.