Trajan’s Bath in Civitavecchia - Discover The History of The Roman SPA
SPA is the acronym for Salus Per Aquam: Health through the Water. Did you know it?
The ancient Romans strongly believed in the healing power of a relaxing afternoon at the bath, that is why there were so many establishments in all the Roman cities, it was a sort of trademark of the Roman Empire and so they can be found all over.
They were also very common near the ports, that’s why they can be found in Ostia Antica, Pompeii and Civitavecchia.
People used to go to the baths not only to relax but also to socialize and actively participate in city events and, between one bath and another, they debated politics, current events or poetry. For this reason, an important area of the ancient spa was dedicated to the "gymnasium", imported from the Greek tradition, where they could attend conferences, athletic games, and performances by novice poets.
After the bath, it was then possible to access equally sumptuous and elegant environments such as gardens with flowers and fountains, arcades for strolling libraries, art galleries or music rooms.
In the colossal Roman baths that simultaneously welcomed thousands of people, there were restaurants, shops of tonsors (barbers), perfumers and apothecaries. Even the services were organized with grandiose criteria: in the underground of many of those baths, the excavations brought to light an entire network of corridors, large enough for the passage of two chariots side by side; these underground convoys, through hatches that opened into the floor of the baths, were loaded with used linen to be taken for washing and supplied the spa with clean linen, the tools necessary for cleaning and wood for heating, without these goods having to pass through the luxurious and crowded upper rooms.
Let’s discover the typical routine! Like in modern gyms, after a richly decorated entrance hall, the first room we would have encountered, was the apodyterium, the changing room, where people would leave their clothes in the special lockers created in niches in the walls or in wooden structures. The clothes were stored in special compartments at eye level, but since there was no closure, it was always necessary to leave a slave to guard!
It was then possible to enter the gym to perform gymnastic exercises or entertain themselves in games of various kinds. Trigon was played, a sort of dunks 7 in three, like the one described by Petronius in the Satyricon.
A sort of volleyball was practised with the hand placed on a racket, to hit the opponent's ball. A more strenuous game was then played, the Harpastum, something similar to modern rugby in which the ball was competed between thrusts and tackles. In addition to ball games, they were training with weights, dumbbells and barbells, practising with the sword against a pole, or punching a large ball of sand similar to modern punching balls. These activities were aimed at warming the body and activating sweating, to better prepare it for the sauna, set up in the Laconicum, generally the space that was immediately following the gym. The next stop would have been at the calidarium for a hot bath. The body was immersed for a few minutes inside the tanks placed around the room where the water could reach up to 60 °. And from the Calidarium they were then proceeding to the tepidarium, a passage room generally smaller than the others, where the extreme heat felt in the two previous rooms could be tempered, before entering the frigidarium, the room with cold water. This room turned out to be the most majestic and splendid of the spa facility. And the tubs with cold water (at the source temperature), in which they could immerse themselves in order to reactivate the circulation and tone the body, were the last essential stage of this "path of health".
It was also possible to make a pleasant stop in the massage rooms, to get waxed, to be sprinkled with perfumed oils and ointments, before recovering their clothes, and leaving the building. Some of these establishments, but only the largest, were also equipped with a swimming pool, the natatio, which could reach the size of modern Olympic swimming pools.
If you wish to walk among impressive ruins and relive the atmosphere of Ancient Rome away from the huge crowds, the archaeological site of the Trajan Baths, near Civitavecchia, is perfect for you! They were frequented by illustrious personalities and ordinary people, including the Legionaries returning from the war.
The first who exploited the thermal waters in this area were the Etruscans who built very simple spas that were developed and expanded only in Roman times. In the Sillan age (90 - 70 BC) was built the new structure with entrance, laconicum, calidarium and some service rooms, which took the name of Terme Taurine and had its maximum development with Trajan followed by a further expansion towards the end of the empire of Hadrian.
These baths were frequented throughout the imperial age until the end of the 5th century; during the war between the Goths and the Byzantines they were abandoned, and restoration projects were started only in the middle of the last century, but unfortunately, they were never completed. Today, inside the park the thermal water no longer flows, but a few steps from it there is the modern thermal complex of Ficoncella open to the public and perfect for a moment of relaxation after a walk among these imposing ruins.
But what is the reason for this name? According to the legend narrated by the poet Rutilio Claudio Namaziano, a bull, probably assimilated to a divinity, would have rasped the earth before starting a fight and thus the source of sulphurous hot water would have sprung. This bull could be identified with the son of the Great Mediterranean Goddess whose horns symbolized the crescent moon and whose potency represented the power of nature to die and rise again each year.
In reality, it is very likely that the name Terme Taurine comes directly from the ancient pond of Aquae Tauri which is located on the slopes of the Tolfa Mountains and from which the source of the sulphurous waters gushed. Some scholars hypothesize that the area of the complex can be identified with the villa of the emperor Trajan, a hypothesis that is still very controversial.
The area houses also an interesting botanical garden, the Horti Traianei, where you can stroll among numerous varieties of characteristic plants, flowers and trees. And, as you will see, cats are still enjoying what remains of this magnificent structure!
Lately, the Trajan’s Baths have often been transformed into a setting for events and concerts, also hosting major artists such as Nicola Piovani and Stefano Bollani.
Roma Experience organizes a full immersion into the history of the ancient baths!