National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Roman Baths: Tepidarium N o OTHER civilization has ever evolved the concep tion of a building for public recreation, exercise, and amusement even remotely comparable to the imperial Roman baths. The Baths of Caracalla in Rome included an area of more than 20 acres, fitted with reading rooms, auditoria, running tracks, covered walks, and planted gardens, surrounding a single unified building which alone covered six acres. In the central building were halls so vast that thousands could wander through them at one time, rooms with vaulted ceilings 70 feet above the floor, an enclosed swimming pool 200 feet long, and a steam room half as large as the Pantheon. Hundreds of bronze and marble statues, acres of mosaic flooring, and thousands of square yards of costly marble veneering were adornments. Huge as this recreation center was, it was only one of seven in Rome. Others were the Baths of Diocletian, of Agrippa, of Nero, of Titus, of Trajan, and of Constantine. In every province of the Empire were similar, though some what smaller baths-in Germany at Badenweiler and Trier; in England, where the city of Bath still perpetuates them in its name; in Spain, France, Asia Minor, and North Africa. The Roman bath of the illustration lay under drifting sand in Tripolitania until it was cleared and studied by Italian archeologists. Framing and setting off the geometric mosaics of the floor, marble steps lead down into a marble-lined pool filled waist high with lukewarm water from a pipe concealed in a statue base behind a bronze lion's-head spout and connected with the furnace boilers in thebasement. An invisible overflow is located in one of the angles ofthe pool. The room adjoining onthe left isadisrobing room (apodyterium) and the niches inthewall aretobeused as open lockers by the bathers. The elegantly carved marble basin partly visible at theextreme leftforeground isfed with cold water for sponging. For most of the wall surfaces, veined marble has been sawn into thin veneering slabs, and these have been spread out to take advantage ofthe pattern which their irregular markings can produce. Unfluted Corinthian columns add coherence to the whole composition and justify acontinuous running cornice treatmentfor the wall top, asatransition to the intricate painted detail onthemolded plaster designs which fill every inch of the lunettes and spandrels ofthe gorgeous ceiling. Furnaces were concentrated inonepart of thebasement, and floors and basins situated nearest them had thegreatest benefit from the hot air and theheated water (page 614). As the entering bather moved toward thesector underneath which the fires were kept,the temperature of walls and floors, of air and water, gradually increased toamaximum, and then as gradually dropped when hereversed his course. He took a final dip in theswimming pool inthefrigidarium as precaution against chillswhen hewent outside. Often in auxiliary rooms, recitations, readings, lectures, and discussions invited attendance, and any citizen who had one cent to pay his admission tothe bath could divert him self for an entire afternoon without quitting thepremises.