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The Baths of Caracalla on 'Notte Bianca', 2006

The Baths of Caracalla in Romemarker, Italymarker were Roman public baths, or thermae, built in Romemarker between AD 212 and 216, during the reign of the Emperor Caracalla. The baths remained in use until the 6th century when the complex was sacked by the Ostrogoths during the Gothic War, destroying the hydraulic installations . The extensive ruins of the baths have become a popular tourist attraction.

The bath complex covered approximately 13 hectares (33 ac). The bath building was 228 meters (750 ft) long, 116 meters (380 ft) wide and 38.5 meters (125 ft) estimated height, and could hold an estimated 1,600 bathers.

The Caracalla bath complex of buildings was more a leisure centre than just a series of baths. The "baths" were the second to have a public library within the complex. Like other public libraries in Rome, there were two separate and equal sized rooms or buildings; one for Greek language texts and one for Latin language texts.
The Baths of Caracalla, in 2009

The baths consisted of a central 55.7 by 24 meter (183x79 ft) frigidarium (cold room) under three 32.9 meter (108 ft) high groin vaults, a double pool tepidarium (medium), and a 35 meter (115 ft) diameter caldarium (hot room), as well as two palaestras (gyms where wrestling and boxing was practiced). The north end of the bath building contained a natatio or swimming pool. The natatio was roofless with bronze mirrors mounted overhead to direct sunlight into the pool area. The entire bath building was on a 6 meter (20 ft) high raised platform to allow for storage and furnaces under the building.

The libraries were located in exedrae on the east and west sides of the bath complex. The entire north wall of the complex was devoted to shops. The reservoirs on the south wall of the complex were fed with water from the Marcian Aqueduct.

Reconstruction of the floorplan of the bath complex.

Principal dimensions

Precinct maximum: 412x393M

Internal: 323x323M

Central Block overall: 218x112M

Swimming Pool: 54x23M

Frigidarium: 59x24M height c. 41M

Caldarium: 35M diameter height c. 44M

Internal courts: 67x29M

Quantities of materials

Pozzolanna: 341,000 Cu. M

Quick lime: 35,000 Cu. M

Tufa: 341,000 Cu. M

Basalt for foundations: 150,000 Cu. M

Brick pieces for facing: 17.5 million

Large Bricks: 520,000

Marble columns in Central block: 252

Marble for columns and decorations: 6,300 Cu. M

Estimated average labour figures on site

Excavation: 5,200 men

Substructure: 9,500 men

Central Block: 4,500 men

Decoration: 1,800 men

One of many statues is the colossal 4M (15ft.) statue of Aesclepius.The 12M (40 ft.) columns of the frigidarium were made of granite and they weighed close to 100 tonnes.Chris Scarre provides a slightly longer construction period 211-217 CE.

They would have had to install over 2,000 tons of material every day for 6 years in order to complete it in this time period. Records show that the idea for the baths were drawn up by Septimius Severus, and merely completed or opened in the lifetime of Caracalla. This would allow for a longer construction time frame.

The building was heated by a hypocaust, a system of burning coal and wood underneath the ground to heat water provided by a dedicated aqueduct. It was in use up to the 19th century.

In the early 20th century, the design of the baths was used as the inspiration for several modern structures, including Pennsylvania Stationmarker in New York Citymarker, USA and National Assembly Buildingmarker in Dhakamarker, Bangladeshmarker.

A section of the complex mosaic floor tiling found in the baths.
The baths are open to the public for an admission fee of 6 Euros, which does not apply to students or pensioners from the EU. Access is limited to certain areas to avoid damage to the mosaic floors, although such damage is already clearly visible. Also, a total of 22 well-preserved columns from the ruins are found in the church of Santa Maria in Trasteveremarker, taken there in the 12th century. The baths were the only archaeological site in Rome damaged by an earthquake near L'Aquilamarker in 2009.

See also


  2. "Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World" edited by Chris Scarre 1999 p178
  3. Walker, Charles, 1980 "Wonders of the Ancient World" p. 92-3

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