A trip to English city will surely fascinate and amaze tourists.
Viewing the Roman baths in Bath puts time into perspective. It’s not everyday that you can so easily view what life must have been like 2,000 years ago. The Romans discovered the delights of Bath in southern England centuries ago, but modern travellers really need to see for themselves what living history really looks like. Bath is an amazing pictograph of times gone before, possibly the best urban architectural landscape I have ever seen. In all honesty, Bath may be the most beautiful city in the world.
If you watch TV shows or movies set in Great Britain, quite often many of the buildings are constructed of a warm honey-coloured substance known as “Bath stone.” The rock is an oolitic limestone comprised of granular fragments of calcium carbonate, a so-called “freestone” that can be sawn or “squared up” in any direction, unlike other rocks such as slate or granite. Bath freestone has been used extensively as a building material throughout southern England for churches, houses, and public buildings such as railway stations.
But in the city of Bath itself, it appears that every single building has been built of this honey-coloured rock. We wandered around the streets and squares in a state of awe. Normally I prefer people over places, marketplaces before architecture, but the golden glow of a sunset over the sandstone monuments of Bath is a sight you have to see for yourself. A walking tour, either by book or with a guide, is a must.
Free walking tours of Bath are available from an organization known as Mayor of Bath Honourary Guides, a terrific tout that include the main points of historical and architectural interest. Tours last about two hours and start in the Abbey Church Yard. No booking is necessary for individuals.
Our guide was terrific, patient and funny with a storytelling style that brought the sites alive. The pace was slow and easy for everyone in our group to keep up. We started with the ancient Romans and then progressed through the medieval ages, the Victorian age and up to modern times. After the tour we went back to the Roman baths and bought a ticket. The tour of the catacombs and underground rooms was fascinating.
The dominant architectural style of the city is Georgian, popular in the early 18th century when the town first became a fashionable and popular spa. Based initially around its hot springs discovered by Celts and then constructed by the Romans, the spa led to a demand for substantial mansions for the rich and then guest houses for tourists. The city became a World Heritage Site in 1987, largely because of its architectural history. Its many examples of Palladian architecture are purposefully integrated with urban spaces to provide what is known as “picturesque estheticism.” It is the only entire city in Britain to achieve World Heritage status.
But it’s the Roman baths that give the city its name that you must see and experience. The baths were built around natural hot springs, the only ones in the U.K., originally treated as a shrine by the Celts. During the early Roman occupation in the 60s or 70s AD, engineers built a stable foundation and surrounded the spring with a stone chamber lined with lead. It fed a bathing complex on its south side within a vaulted building. The complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years. The spring is now housed in 18th-century buildings designed by architects John Wood the Younger and Elder.
Much of the town was designed by the Woods, who laid out streets and squares in patterns, the facades of which gave an impression of palatial scale and classical decorum. The “Circus,” for instance, consists of three long, curved terraces designed to form a circular space or theatre intended for civic functions, the inspiration behind which was the Colosseum in Rome.
The best known of Bath’s terraces is the Royal Crescent built between 1767 and 1774 and designed by the younger Wood, who designed the great curved facade of what appears to be about 30 mansions strung together with ionic columns on a rusticated ground floor. You may also want to visit the home of its most famous citizen, Jane Austen. She paid two long visits here towards the end of the 18th century, and from 1801 to 1806 Bath was her home.
As a spa, drawing the rich from near and far to wallow in its waters and frolic at its many festivals and parties, and with its many guest houses and guest workers, it may be said that Bath represents the birth of the modern tourism industry. Going back to Roman times, Bath has always been a traveller’s destination. The fact that the city retains so much of its beauty and charm is just another reason to go.