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The Ancient Baths of Baiae;
Observations and Inferences ( 3 of 3)

by
Julissa Mendez, Darren Peterson & Erna Schas
Ital333, Prof. Barbara Nucci, March 1999

      As we made our way north of the baths of Sosandra, we came upon the baths of Mercury. The Temple of Echo, mistakenly called the "Temple of Mercury", is named for the ominous acoustic effect that is a characteristic of the dome. It is an impressive structure representing, what is thought to be, the oldest example of a large dome.

A Chronology of
Events in Italy

60,000 BC - 1300 AD

1300 AD - 1998 AD

 Dating back to the beginning of the Augustan age, the dome is constructed using wedge shaped blocks of tufa stone. The blocks are arranged in concentric rings and cemented in place.  The internal diameter of the dome is just over 21 meters.  At one time a natural spring flowed from a niche in the western wall. Today, as a result of the sinking ground level caused by the seismic phenomenon known as  bradyseism, this niche is hidden beneath the water which floods the temple. 
     Beginning in the 1st century AD the typical buildings associated with a Roman bath complex (apoditerium, calidarium, tepidarium, frigidarium, massage rooms, etc.) were constructed around the earlier buildings.  The complex was almost certainly a public structure. 

     These facilities provided the Romans with three kinds of pools; a frigidarium (with cold water), a topidarium (with warm water), and a calidarium (with hot water).  Adjacent to the pools were elegantly decorated rooms used for relaxation.  There were saunas, massage rooms, places for exercising, sitting rooms, and reading rooms.  Also, the bath complexes had waiting areas for the slaves and the attendants that maintained the facilities  and serviced their masters. (Kebril 191)  

      The baths played an important roll in the everyday life of the Roman people.  They were not just a place to bathe but they were also a place of relaxation, meditation and sometimes a place where very important decisions would be made. Even though wealthy Romans enjoyed the comfort of baths in their own homes, they would still frequent the public baths.  The public  baths were an important social center.  They served as a meeting place for politicians, merchants and intellectuals. (Kebril 191) 

     As the great Roman empire declined, so did Baiae.  It was later plundered by the Saracens in the 8th century and then, because of the threat of malaria, was gradually deserted. 

 

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