The Baths of Caracalla
Terme di Caracalla
dedicated in 216 CE
Let others praise ancient times;
I am glad I was born in these.
~ Ovid, (43 BC- 17 or 18 AD)
Born in Sulmo, Roman Republic (modern day Sulmona, Italy)
Died Tomis, Scythia Minor, Roman Republic (Modern Constanta, Romania)
My great weather Monday, in Rome, continued. After spending part of the morning at the "Non-Catholic Cemetery," in Rome, I hopped the metro, and headed to the Baths of Caracalla. My hope was to hit up the baths, and the Palatine Hill, while the weather was still clear and the skies blue.
I was on a photo mission, after seeing the ancient Roman baths, while researching my trip online. I love painting/drawing old stonework, but especially when it's contrasted with greenery, or some kind of plant life. Rome had had a lot of rain (and flooding) so there was definitely greenery.
I was scouring Youtube, for music of ancient Rome, for you to listen to. The thing is, it's not hard to find, but much of the ancient music I found on Youtube, sounded ... pretty creepy, and/or annoying. No wonder the Romans drank.
Anyway, I found this guy who plays Roman lyre music and it's pretty groovy ... in an ancient Roman kind way. ;)
It's difficult in photos, to really show you how huge this place is. The big arched doorway is big enough to stand, probably, four gladiators end to end.
Emperor Caracalla's father, Septimius Severus, is said to have begun the project, but after he died, and after Caracalla had his younger brother (and co-Emperor) Geta killed, (in his mother's arms!) he had the project completed. He was one brutal dude, but the baths were a way to ensure his legacy. I think they are the largest baths on the planet today, and in the past, second only to the baths of Diocletian.
This huge area, seen above and below, was the West Palaestra ... one of two huge gymnasiums.
Throughout the huge complex, you can see some of the incredible, original, mosaic floors. They used different colored marble, from various places, including Egypt, Sparta and Numidia.
Poetry comes fine spun
from a mind at peace.
Here is an Illustration, I got on Wikipedia, that shows the arial plan. You can see the gymnasiums, on the left and right, as the big vertical rectangles, with marked with "G." This gives you a little idea of the size of the place, after seeing photos of one of the gymnasiums above.
Not sure if you can see the tiny letters in the illustration ...
A-Calidarium (hot bath - the circle top/middle)
D-Frigidarium (Swimming Pool)
G-Palaestra (weight training, gymnasium)
Imagine the brick walls completely covered in marble and granite, with beautiful mosaics and huge sculptures, in large niches. I believe these doors led into the dressing areas.
This digital restoration video of the baths, will give you an idea of what the place looked like almost 2 thousand to 1,500 years ago.
The only bummer, is there was very little signage at the baths, so unless you do a little research before you go, you don't really know what you are looking at! There were meeting rooms, saunas, 2 libraries and cafeterias as well as gymnasiums, olympic size pool, track and various heated baths and it was all free to the public.
Isn't this floor incredibly beautiful?
God himself helps those who dare.
This is a huge central "hall" above. There would have been enormous columns, some of which are probably the 22, over at Santa Maria in Trasteve. Click here to see my post of that church and check out the huge columns, in the nave, taken from this place.
Turning to the right, in the photo above, you would see what I think is the frigidarium. (see photo below)
Beyond the Frigidarium, was the huge open air pool. Apparently, the Caldarium, the very hot bath, is what you do before moving on to the more mild temperature of the Tepidarium. After that, the Frigidarium and the olympic sized pool. All this after your workout and massage.
Our native soil draws all of us,
by I know not what sweetness,
and never allows us to forget.
The Poems of Exile; Tristia and the Black Sea Letters
Venus is kind to creatures as young as we;
We know not what we do, and while we're young
We have the right to live and love like Gods.
Above and below, the East Gymnasium. Look how tiny the humans are, below!
Up on the wall, remains of marble moldings.
The two huge structures below, would have held a massive dome (just a little smaller than the pantheon) over the top of the Caldarium. (hot baths)
Until recently, in summertime, they would set up a stage for the Rome Opera, between the two huge structures above, (that would have held the dome.) Someone became concerned the sound was not good for stability of the structures and it was moved into the gardens. You can see how they would use it for staging, in the past, in the Pavarroti video, below. This was from the first Three Tenors Concert.
The stones in the foreground below are part of an art installation by Michelangelo Pistoletto, originally at the Venice Biennale in 2005. It's called Il Terso Paradiso (The Third Paradise) and is made of ancient stone fragments. Though you can't see it from this angle, it makes 3 loops.
I don't think I was there very long, before having to leave. (An hour? A little longer?) They were doing some sort of construction. I was so bummed when the workers pointed at the exit and said, "Dieci minuti" I took those ten minutes, and I ran to the far end, so that I could walk slowing back to the exit taking pictures, the whole way. I had no idea what they were working on.
Doing a little research, I just found out. There are a couple of articles online about the excavation of the underground tunnels, where the heating of the baths and saunas were done, by 50 ovens! (And whole lot of coal, wood and slave labor!) Two miles of triple grid tunnels, as well as an old temple! Anyway, a few weeks after I left Rome, a portion of those tunnels were open to the public, as well as the museum and bookshop that had been closed for a year. Guess I'll have to go back!
'The god of Delos, proud in victory,
Saw Cupid draw his bow's taut arc, and said:
'Mischievous boy, what are a brave man's arms To you?
That gear becomes my shoulders best.
My aim is sure; I wound my enemies,
I wound wild beasts; my countless arrows slew
But now the bloated Python, whose vast coils
Across so many acres spread their blight.
You and your loves!
You have your torch to light them!
Let that content you; Never claim my fame!'
And Venus' son replied: 'Your bow, Apollo,
May vanquish all, but mine shall vanquish you.
As every creature yields to power divine,
So likewise shall your glory yield to mine.'
The baths were in use for a few hundred years, until the Goths destroyed the aquaduct in 537 AD. During 1600 century much of the excavation was done and a lot of the art was taken elsewhere thanks to the Farnese family, who took some of it to the Palazzo Farnese in Rome (Now the French Embassy.) Now the art is in various museums.
Among other works, there was a huge statue of Hercules, later called the Farnese Hercules, which is now at the Naples National Archeological Museum. Two of the fountains, from Caracalla, are in the Piazza Farnese, and other works are in the Vatican Museums and elsewhere.
This is a bust of Emperor Caracalla that I photographed, later in the trip, at Palazzo Bianco, in Genova.
Unfortunately, the following video is in Italian but you can still get a lot out of it. Especially the very end from 16:56-17:42. You might want to just turn the sound down on it, if you don't speak Italian.
The Baths of Caracalla have been in popular culture, in a ways I did not realize. Not only did the first Three Tenors concert take place in 1990 there, but it's also been in movies like Woody Allen's To Rome with Love and La Dolce Vita.
Here is a scene shot at the baths, in Fellini's La Dolce Vita. You can't really tell where they are, but it would have been so fun to shoot a movie there! If an American director was shooting at the Baths, he'd have to show you that he was shooting there. With Italian directors, it's just ambiance and I guess, when you live in Rome, the "awesomeness" is just part of life!
I'm currently doing a pastel piece of the Baths of Caracalla, working from my photos. Of course, I will be sharing that with you soon!
I was so happy to have made it to the Baths, even though, like I said, I wasn't sure what I was looking at, most of the time! It was an impressive sight and on such a beautiful day, I was just thrilled to be there! Next time, I'd love to sit and sketch.
After I left, I took one of only 3 cab rides I hailed in Rome. I knew I'd be walking all around the Palatine Hill and I had to give my feet a little break! That post will up soon ... after a little Spring Day at the Arboretum.
Hope you enjoyed our little visit to the Roman spa!
Have a great week!!!