Bath Set on the River Avon, the spa city of Bath boasts the finest Roman remains in Europe, magnificent Georgian architecture and excellent shopping facilities.
This ancient settlement developed around several mineral-rich springs (rising to 46C), which the Celts believed to have healing powers. These were dedicated to Sulis, the Celtic goddess of healing and sacred waters.
When the Romans arrived, soon after their invasion in 43 AD, they built a great temple beside the Sacred Spring, dedicated to Sulis Minerva, a deity, a hybrid of Sulis and Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. The Romans built grand bathing complexes around the hot springs, including the Great Bath, and came here to relax and take advantage of their reputed healing powers.
Between the 60’s and 70’s AD the town of Aquae Sulis (the waters of Sulis), grew up around the hot springs. After the Romans left in around 410 AD the town was sacked by the Saxons and did not revive for a considerable time. Although the suite of Roman baths fell into disrepair, the hot springs were still known about and used. A Saxon monastery, established here in 781 AD, later became one of the most powerful in England.
In 973 AD the abbey was the site of the coronation of Edgar, the first King of England. The abbey church, begun in 1499, was the last great Gothic church to be constructed in England. With its 52 magnificent windows, Bath Abbey soon became known as the ‘Lantern of the West‘.
A town grew up around the abbey in medieval times. It’s economy was largely based on the wool trade but during the Elizabethan period the town began to revive as a spa and in 1590 Bath was granted city status.
When Bath’s wool trade declined in the 16th and 17th centuries, the town began to rely on the hot springs as its main source of prosperity. This trade received a boost in the early 17th century when Anne of Denmark, wife of James I, came to Bath hoping to be cured of dropsy.
From the 18th century onward the Roman baths were gradually rediscovered and became one of the city’s main attractions. Bath not only became a spa but also a pleasure resort. The aristocracy and gentry from all over the country came to take the waters and to be seen. The fashionable visitors also spent their money at Bath’s shops, which were as good as London’s and much more convenient./p>
Jane Austin, a resident here from 1801-06, describes life in fashionable Bath in her novels ‘Northanger Abbey‘ and ‘Persuasion‘.
Georgian Bath expanded rapidly and it was at this time that the city acquired its first purpose-built theater, as well as the Pump Room and Assembly Rooms. The city’s popularity was boosted by the efforts of its ‘Master of Ceremonies’, Richard ‘Beau’ Nash (1674-1762), who established the Assembly Rooms as the center of fashionable life in Bath. Much of Bath’s fine architecture dates from this time.
The architect John Wood the Elder (1704-54) built Queen Square and the North and South Parades and began the Circus. His son, John Wood the Younger (1728-82), completed the Circus and was responsible for the Royal Crescent and the Assembly Rooms.
Bath’s terraces had identical facades giving the buildings classical symmetry and an impression of palatial size. The warm, honey-coloured stone used in Bath was largely obtained from quarries owned by Ralph Allen. To advertise the quality of his stone, Allen commissioned John Wood the Elder to built a country house at Prior Park.
The Circus is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the UK, designed by John Wood the Elder and built between 1754 and 1767. Originally known a the King’s Circus, these elegant buildings were part of the architect’s grand plan to recreate a classical Palladian architectural landscape in Bath. Wood was also responsible for other buildings in Bath, including Prior Park, Queen Square and the North and South Parades, but the Circus is considered to be his masterpiece.
Wood never saw the Circus completed as he died less than three months after the foundation stone was laid. His son, John Wood the Younger, was left to finish the project. With three curved segments of equal length, the Circus has three separate entrances. The buildings have uniform facades and display three orders of Roman architecture (the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian). It is thought that the Circus was Inspired by the Colosseum in Rome but John Wood the Elder was also influenced by Druids and Freemasonry. The circular area of the Circus has almost the same dimensions as Stonehenge and the 30 houses of the Circus match the 30 standing stones.
The freize includes 525 pictorial emblems representing the arts and sciences and a number of Masonic symbols. Originally the central area was an open piazza but in 1800 this was transformed into railed garden. During the air raids of 1942 several of the Circus buildings were destroyed but where later reconstructed.
The Royal Crescent was designed by John Wood the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774. The curving terrace of 30 town houses was designed with 114 Ionic columns – the highest point of Palladian architecture in Bath. Created as lodging houses, the buildings had a uniform facade but varying interiors.
Today Number 1 is a museum maintained by the Bath Preservation Trust. Numbers 15 and 16, at the centre of the Crescent, form the Royal Crescent Hotel. The Royal Crescent stands on a hill overlooking the Royal Victoria Park. The wide area of lawn in front of the building, owned by the Royal Crescent residents, is separated from the Royal Victoria Park
Until the late 18th century Stall Street was crammed with small shops, hiding the spa buildings from passers-by. Sedan chairs had to negotiate narrow lanes and passages to reach the baths. Bath Corporation commissioned Thomas Baldwin to create a more gracious city centre. On one side of Stall Street he built an elegant colonnade, providing access to the Pump Room and entrance to the main bath. Bath Street, on the other side of the street, cut through to the smaller baths.
In the 19th century Bath began to become less popular as a spa and during World War II was subjected to three intense German air raids in 1942. More than 19,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed and 400 people were killed. The Assembly Rooms, the south side of Queen’s Square, and houses in the Royal Crescent, Circus and Paragon were all burnt out. These historic buildings have since been reconstructed.
Today, Bath is a centre of arts and culture with many attractions, museums, exhibitions, concerts and performances throughout the year. The highlight is the International Festival at Bath, beginning in May, a month-long celebration of music, arts and other fringe events.
Plenty of shops here , with many “speciality” shops, try Shire’s Yard at Milsom Street, the indoor arcade, linking Milsom Street and Broad Street, it offers a wide range of goods, from designer fashion, shoes and accessories to chocolates and flowers.
You can try the City Sightseeing Tour, operated by the Bath Bus Company, which offers regular guided bus trips of Bath covering most of Bath’s attractions, You can get on and off at over 20 stops along the route.
Guided walks are available for visitors, including tours offered by the Mayor of Bath Honoury Guides. These free 2 hour walks leave from the Pump Room by the Roman Baths, Monday – Sunday at 10.30 am and Sunday to Friday at 14:00 pm. From May to September additional tours leave on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 19:00 pm. Telephone 01225 477411 for details.