bath houses

The Roman bathhouses were simple enough in ancient Rome, like ourselves they would take a bath, clean themselves and dry off. Those who could afford it would indulge themselves in the ritual by building a more splendid edifice. Under the Republic, bathing became more of a luxurious art and a considerable number of elaborate bathhouses were erected. Each new bathhouse erected looked like a competition to outdo the other, with walls constructed of marble, high vaulted ceilings, sculptures and the like. In Imperial Rome the bathhouses became even more elaborate and became the magnificent structures that were properly called the Thermae. The rich, including emperors accorded liberal patronage and no expense was spared. Each architect would erect something more ostentatious than before creating the most stupendous individual buildings in the world and designed to accommodate a large number of people.

Many of the Thermae around the Empire were typically built with towering columns of marble on slabs of granite, skylights to let in the warm sun and twinkling stars, great fountains, the glitzy splendor of gilded bronze, statues, walls and ceilings with mosaics, marble and colored glass. Aqueducts would feed the reservoirs. The central unit of the baths was the warm room or great hall of the tepidarium around which all other halls and rooms were grouped. At either end of the tepidarium were hemicycles opening on peri-style courts.

More than just a fetish, the bathhouses became a cultural center and an occasion for social events, open to the public free of charge. Around the world they were generally attended by the Romans and Greeks, Jews would not be seen here because of the nudity involved. The buildings included gymnasiums, museums and libraries and became among the most splendid and expensive of the imperial works. These magnificent structures contained luxurious hot and cold private chambers for men and women to bathe, dressing rooms, swimming pools; lounges with covered colonnades for relaxation and socializing, special centers for athletics and rooms for spectators.

All kinds of entertainment can be found in these bath houses short of the theater and circus. You may find the popular sports of the day, boxing, wrestling, gymnastics and acrobatics as well as all sorts of games. This is where you would come to catch up on all the gossip, local and international news; there were lecture rooms for the local literati and readings by poets, philosophers and politicians. Much of daily Roman life surrounded the Thermae and a good proportion of a citizen's day was spent here lasting several hours or more.
[350, 379]

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