The Roman Bath have long been on my list of ‘things I have to go and see’ – it’s a formidable list. But I’ve been staring longingly at glossy magazine style images of the green-turquoise waters for too long so I took the plunge (no I didn’t fall in).
I’m not a fan of audio guides . . . but I decided to try the one at the Roman Baths out and I am incredibly glad I did. It’s an excellent supplement to the site, allowing you to tap in and out to areas and objects that peek your attention. The fact that items are described to you by specialist is really refreshing as it makes it more personal than a very obviously script based audio commentary.
Straight away you get to see one of the most photogenic areas of the Bath complex, the square pool. The water is an eerie opaque blue and it was a cold day so you could see wisps of steam rising from the surface. We are so used to seeing this image of the Roman Baths that it probably comes as bit of a shock that everything above the pillar base height here is of a more modern construct date, in fact most of the Roman parts of the Baths are under modern street level.
The fact that one of the most important and probably one of the largest objects, the façade of the Roman temple, has tiered steps in front of it, was brilliant. This allowed people to sit and listen to the audio information about it, while the lights revealing the stonework changed to show what the missing parts will have looked like and what colours may have been used in its decoration. I’m convinced that just by having this platform of steps on which to sit down on while listening to stories and information about this item will have increased the dwell time for admiring this impressive piece.
I loved the curse tablets; what truly incredible objects. Their presentation was simple but effective; there was the flattened lead objects themselves, then an illustration which made clear what the text written across their surface looks like, followed by a translation and brief explanations. They are all so very human, the items mentioned are not particularly of high value, but the principle of their theft or loss and the list of names to be cursed, or potential criminals is such tangible and relatable information.
Archaeological sites are often incredibly difficult to understand, but it’s possibly even trickier to actually imagine what things would have looked from what to the untrained eye looks like a nearly flat building outline. There were TV screens with footage of what the underground archaeological remains look like now, which visitors can clearly see in front of them. This then morphs on the screens into what it would have looked like, which really helped to give a scale and understanding to what now looks like rather sporadic building work in a cellar.
The displays of coins were wonderfully informative. The Beau Street hoard display explained how the coins were discovered and conserved, as well as how their formation allowed for them to be understood to have been organised in a number of leather bags, which had disintegrated over time. I found the display that showed the numbers of coins being offered to the waters at Bath over time pretty fascinating; it seems throwing coins into pools for luck must be ingrained in our psyche by now.
Finally there was the chance to have a sip of the mineral rich waters, once praised for their healing powers. Let’s just say it definitely didn’t taste like calpol, or fresh water and I felt so ‘healed’ that I didn’t need to go back for seconds.