While the body enjoys the sunshine in the gardens of the baths, the mind goes to the time when the ancient Romans wandered there. A vivid sketch of what went on at a small bath establishment can be found in a letter written by Lucius Annaeus Seneca. He was a philosopher of the Ist century AD, who was entrusted with the education of Emperor Nero. Later on he became one of Nero's advisers until he was charged with having plotted against the Emperor. He was ordered to commit suicide, which he did by severing his veins in the presence of his wife and his friends in a bathtub (see a statue supposed to portray his death).
Beshrew (curse) me if I think anything more requisite than silence for a man who secludes himself in order to study! Imagine what a variety of noises reverberates about my ears! I have lodgings right over a bathing establishment. So picture to yourself the assortment of sounds, which are strong enough to make me hate my very powers of hearing!
When your strenuous gentleman, for example, is exercising himself by flourishing leaden weights; when he is working hard, or else pretends to be working hard, I can hear him grunt; and whenever he releases his imprisoned breath, I can hear him panting in wheezy and high-pitched tones. Or perhaps I notice some lazy fellow, content with a cheap rubdown, and hear the crack of the pummelling hand on his shoulder, varying in sound according as the hand is laid on flat or hollow. Then, perhaps, a professional comes along, shouting out the score; that is the finishing touch.
Seneca - Moral Letters to Lucilius (an epistolary philosophical treatise) - LVI - On Quiet and Study - Translated by Richard Mott Gummerer.
Western Apodyterium, the hall where bathers changed and left their clothes
Add to this the arresting of an occasional roisterer or pickpocket ... (Seneca)
Access to the baths was subject to a small payment, perhaps one as, the lowest valued coin. The process of payment helped in preventing the access of notorious thieves to the establishment, yet the most affluent visitors came with a slave who watched over their clothes. They warned him: Ne addormias propter fures (do not fall asleep, because there are thieves around).
Those who did not have a slave could ask a capsarius, a servant at the baths, to watch over their things. An inscription found at the baths of Afrodisias, sounds similar to warnings at many modern hotels: He who does not inform the warden of the money he leaves in his clothes, cannot complain (if it is stolen).
Ruins of the calidarium (hot room)
(Add to this) ... the racket of the man who always likes to hear his own voice in the bathroom, or the enthusiast who plunges into the swimming-tank with unconscionable noise and splashing. Besides all those whose voices, if nothing else, are good, imagine the hair-plucker with his penetrating, shrill voice, – for purposes of advertisement, – continually giving it vent and never holding his tongue except when he is plucking the armpits and making his victim yell instead. Then the cake-seller with his varied cries, the sausage-man, the confectioner, and all the vendors of food hawking their wares, each with his own distinctive intonation. (Seneca)
The design of Roman baths was energy conservation conscious and all the hot rooms were placed in the south-western part of the establishment so that their heating could be facilitated by being directly exposed to the sun. The natatio (low depth swimming pool) which was located behind the hot rooms was not roofed to let appropriately situated bronze mirrors convey sunbeams on it.
View of the gardens from the San Saba hill. "Terzo Paradiso" (Third Paradise) is a work of art by Michelangelo
Pistoletto who rearranged broken columns and capitals to form the symbol of his "new world"
We have discovered a fragment of the "order of the
day," or programme of the distribution of service on the
nineteenth day of April, a. D. 226.
This unique and most remarkable document, which we
were fortunate enough to bring to light in January, 1881,
was evidently written by one of the overseers in charge of
a special department, say, for instance, the department of
the wardrobe; and for the want of the proper material
it was written with a black pencil on a piece of marble,
evidently belonging to the incrustation of the walls of
the room which was used as an office. It contains, first,
the above mentioned date (April 19th) and the name of
the Emperor, Severus Alexander. Then follows a list of names of slaves and servants, such as Zoticus, Gaudentius,
Panacius, Januarius, Stephanus, etc., and near each name
a number, which varies from a minimum of one half to a
maximum of three and a half, - numbers which probably
refer to the hours of duty of each individual.
Rodolfo Lanciani - Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries - 1888
The establishment included a very large terrace with gardens where visitors to the baths walked and chatted with friends, while underground passageways were used by servants and slaves. The current set up of the area is not very different from the ancient one, at least in purpose, because pine trees were not as fashionable in ancient Rome as they became in the XXth century (see a page on the Pines of Rome).
Ruins of large buildings at the western (left) and eastern (right) ends of the gardens
The establishment included some other facilities which were located at the edge of the gardens. The precise identification of their purpose has not been easy, but archaeologists believe they included Greek and Latin libraries, an auditorium for musical or poetry contests, warehouses for storage of oil, perfumes, pumice stones, clay and other materials used in the baths and a series of cisterns. The water came from a branch of the aqueducts along Via Latina which crossed Via Appia at Arco di Druso.
The remaining imposing walls are just the skeleton of a more complex structure which included wooden balconies and passages, water pipes and underground furnaces with tubes inside the walls which distributed the heat. The walls themselves had an appearance different from the current one because they were faced with small red bricks. These can still be seen on some high points because elsewhere they were peeled off to be utilized in the defensive walls built by Pope Pius IV around the Vatican and by Pope Urban VIII on the Janiculum. You may wish to see a page on Roman Construction Techniques.
External wall of a large ancillary building on the western side of the complex, seen from near S. Balbina
I shall change from my present quarters. Why need I be tormented any longer, when Ulysses found so simple a cure for his comrades even against the songs of the Sirens? (Seneca - a reference to Ulysses bidding his men row past the Sirens as quickly as possible).
The image in the background of this page shows a detail of a mosaic in the eastern palaestra.
Other Days of Peace pages:
A Sunny Day in Villa Borghese
At the Flea Market
At the Beach
Voicing Your Views ..... and feeling better
Christmas in Rome
Celebrating the Foundation of Rome
A visit to Roseto di Roma
The procession of La Madonna de Noantri
Running the Marathon
Watching the Parade
Finding Solace at the Protestant Cemetery
Attending 2007 July Events
Rome's Sleepless Night
Attending Winter Ceremonies
Jogging at Valle delle Camene
Sailing on the River to see the Bridges of Roma
An October Outing to Marino
A Special Spring Weekend
Embassy-hunting in Parioli
Attending a Funeral ...and enjoying it!
Celebrating Eritrean Michaelmas in Rome
Visiting Rome at Dawn
Visiting Rome in the Moonlight
Visiting Rome on a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus
Visiting Multi-ethnic Rome
Playing in the Snow at the Janiculum
Watching the Pride Parade
Reading Memoirs of Hadrian at Villa Adriana
Visiting the Movie Sets at Cinecittà
Looking up at the Ceilings of the Vatican Palaces
Spending the Last Roman Day at St. John Lateran's Cloister
Reading Ovid at St. Peter's
Walking the Dog at Valle della Caffarella
Keeping up with new discoveries at Museo Ninfeo