Histourism: Bath and Swansea

I am currently doing an internship in Swansea, South Wales, and on my way there last week I spent a most lovely day in Bath, in England. A charming little town, Bath was most famously inhabited by Jane Austen and, just a little before that, by the Romans. What I was most excited to see were the Roman thermal baths – or rather, what was left of them. I’d also brought my new 50mm camera lens that I was eager to try out and which I’m very pleased with thus far. All photos can be seen in better quality on my Flickr page!

 

I stayed at the Bath YHA, which itself is situated in a beautiful Italian-style villa. While unpacking I got to talking to an older Dutch woman who was just finishing up a month-long cycling tour of the UK. So exciting! Everywhere I go on holiday I seem to meet these awesome older women (as I did on Schiermonnikoog) who are just doing it, going on adventures by themselves and not letting fear or being alone stop them from having an awesome time. They give me hope. Funnily enough, this woman lives in Utrecht too, just a few streets away from me. Such a small world. We promised we’d treat each other to ice creams from the amazing shop down the road if we ever ran into each other.

Off I went to see the Bath Abbey, which was just beautiful, and the Roman baths, which were quite understandably packed with tourists. What is left of the baths is surrounded by Georgian architecture; the baths were modified and expanded in the 12th, 16th, 18th and 19th centuries, and are currently divided into four parts: the Sacred Spring, the Roman bath house, the Roman temple and a museum that showcases what has been left over since Roman times. The Celts first built a shrine at these hot springs dedicated to their goddess Sulis, whom the Romans equated with Minerva (my favourite Roman goddess, I might add). The town they built around the spring was called Aquae Sulis, first constructing the temple in 60-70 AD and constructing the bath house over the next three centuries. The museum did a good job of explaining what the complex looked like in Roman times, but with just the Great Bath and some rooms of the bath house remaining – the tepidarium, caldarium, and frigidarium – it is naturally difficult to imagine it in all its former glory. Some wonderful things have been found during construction work, most notably a bronze mask of the goddess Minerva Sulis and a large gorgon’s head carved in stone that used to look down on visitors at the entrance. My favourite objects were the curses scratched on tablets made from a lead-tin alloy, thrown by visitors into the Sacred Spring to be fulfilled by the goddess. These small metal plates have been found all over the Roman Empire and were used to curse specific people. About 130 of these were found under the King’s Bath and they are a unique source of the British-Roman vernacular dialect that was spoken at the time. The best part – most of them refer to the stealing of clothes, money or jewellery while their owner was bathing! Isn’t that amazing? I love learning about ordinary Roman life, a far cry from the hallowed texts by the ancient philosophers. Another brilliant example of this is the graffiti found at the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

After my visit to the baths, I walked around Bath some more. It’s a very small city, so it wasn’t long until I reached the Circus and the Royal Crescent at the top, both very fine examples of Georgian architecture. Unfortunately it was starting to rain, but I found shelter under a big ginkgo tree and heard a live band in the nearby park playing Blind Melon’s No Rain, so it was a nice little moment after all. Then I took shelter in an amazing book shop called Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, until it was time to get to the station for the longish train journey to Swansea.

Swansea is a town that began to grow during the 19th century industrial boom, but it has a lovely crumbling 12th century church in the centre, which I first visited today. My workplace is a lovely half hour walk through the Uplands, an upscale neighbourhood with some beautiful terraced houses and lovely parks. I’m planning to visit the Gower peninsula tomorrow to do some hiking along the coast. Unfortunately, the rest of Wales is not easy to visit by train due to the fact that most train lines run from west to east, having been used to transport goods into England rather than from north to south. I’m very keen to visit Snowdonia in the north, though, and I’m sure I’ll make it happen. So far, the people have been lovely, the portions of food and drink enormous, and the weather predictably rainy (though today was very sunny!).

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