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The Baths of Traiano

      The Baths
The Baths
This ancient baths complex of Civitavecchia is surely amongst the most interesting in the entire Etruscan territory; this large monument may be reached by either crossing the center of the city, along the via delle Terme Taurine in the direction of Tolfa, or for those coming from the South, exit at the Civitavecchia North toll gate and continue on the provincial road for about one kilometer. The first surveys performed on the archeological area date back to the mid 1700 and were decided and carried out by the pontifical government. In the beginning of the 1900's the first systematic work began at the expense of the government, which brought about the discovery of the republican baths, the existence of which, up till then, was unknown. For years investigations continued to uncover most of the bath complex, thereby allowing many different sectors to be identified.

In order to better comprehend the remains that were uncovered, it is necessary to take a few steps back in time and refer to the description contained in a letter written during a long trip in the year 416 AC by the poet Rutilio Claudio Namaziano: when describing the route from Rome to Gallia, he narrates that, because of the strong south winds on the day of his departure he was forced to stop at Centumcellae (Civitavecchia) where he visited the baths: he described the scene with a poem in which the poet affirms that the name of the spring originates from a legend according to which a bull (probably compared to a divinity) scraped the ground before a fight thereby uncovering a miraculous spring of hot sulfurous water. At the foot of the Tolfa mountains, near the ancient lake of Aquae Tauri, there gushes spring which still flows through the Terme Taurine. Some scientists presented a theory whereby the bath area was identified as the villa of Traiano; this theory, which is really quite fascinating, was only supported by a passage from the letter of Pilinio, however there is no additional information to confirm it and studies carried out on the Aquae Taurine have ascertained that his area is in fact a baths complex.

The Baths date back to the most remote and ancient times: It is well known however, that ever since the prehistoric era water springs were well known and appreciated for the therapeutic virtues. The Etruscans began to improve them and built the first rudimentary baths, but only in the Roman era were various problems faced and resolved in order to make the use of these waters as effective as possible. On the hill called "La Ficoncella", approximately one km from the Terme Taurine, there was a small center called Aquae Tauri: this center must have had very ancient roots; the hot spring waters must always have been exploited as shown by the ruins of other baths that existed there. In the "Sillana" era (between 90 and 70 BC) a new building was constructed which was called Terme Taurine, because of its nearness to the above mentioned inhabited center, and was developed to the fullest under the "Traiano" era, with further expansion towards the end of the Adrian empire. The bath area was frequented by notables during the entire imperial era but, with the fall of the empire, this area started to be less crowded; during the war between the Goti and Bizantines the complex ceased functioning, however these miraculous waters, which continued to gush in the abandoned and now ruined building, continued to be used. Midway through the last century projects were studied to reactivate the Baths by restoring the ancient building, but the idea was abandoned.
      The structure of the Baths
The structure of the Baths
The Terme Taurine originally occupied a surface area of no less than 20000 sq. m., including the park area. If paying a visit to the complex, it would be opportune to start from the area of the Republican Baths, near the custodian's house. In the center there is the peristyle, an area set aside walks in the shade. From the peristyle, through a wide corridor with traces of mosaic pavement, one reaches an apsidal room identified as the "tepidarium", where one stopped for a while after a hot bath. Next to the "tepidarium" is the "laconicum" or sweat room, round in shape and originally covered by a dome. To the north of the "tepidarium" and the "laconium" there is a wide corridor with "spicatum" paving that led to other sectors of the baths, always of the 1st century BC, of which there are scarce remains. From the "laconium", through another corridor, one first reached a latrine, then two rooms which must have been the "apodyterium" or changing room for the more ancient baths. Subsequently, a bathing tub was built in each of the two rooms, that largest of which was paved with mosaics and communicated with the "calidarium" tub. This room, with its basic structure, had two rows of columns which divided the room into three aisles. The covering, which was initially a roof, was substitute by an enormous vault. A terrace was built on top of this vault and covered with precious marble paving to form a pavilion (diaeta). The "calidarium" was fed by the hot spring water channeled there through a lead tube. The depth of the tub was approximately 1.20 meters. The entire surroundings were richly decorated: marble finishing, stucco figures of various representations and Ionic columns. In the center of the large apse there was a rectangular niche, with a shelf on each side to hold the columns: an aedicule or kiosk, which housed the sacred image of the divinity that watched over the waters. An altar made of lunar marble was found near the aedicule, dedicated by Alcibiade, freeman of the Emperor Adriano, to the nymphs that watch over the waters. To the south of the "calidarium" there is a small "frigidarium" which was maybe created in the Flavian era (second half of the 1st century AC): the tub must have been fed by the excess waters that came from the "calidarium". When going back to the peristyle one finds a series or small rooms used as day cubicles, that is, bedrooms for brief rests after the bath. Nearby there was an apsidal room or "exedra", that is, meeting or conversation room. The part of the baths complex that was built at a later date, in the Hadrian era, is located to the south of the initial republican center. Down a short stairway and along a narrow corridor one finds the entrance to the baths where an entrance fee was charged and most probably personal effects were left with a trusted custodian ("capsarius"). Through a sequence of rooms one entered the dressing room or "apodyterium" that was heated by a sort of wood burning boiler or "hypocausto". Through a small tunnel in the center of the room, hot air was uniformly blown into cavities in the floor and walls created by appropriate perforated bricks. By crossing the room it was possible to reach either the ancient or recently built "calidarium" which face one another and which might have been used at alternate times or for visitors of a different sex. The more recent "calidarium" was very large: 23 meters long and 10,70 meters wide, with a large tub that took up almost the entire room. Both the bathing tub and the walls were covered with slabs of white marble, while a sequence of square niches, alternated by semi-circular ones, served to lighten the structure. The large tub was fed by a system of tubes that carried hot spring water at a temperature of 47 degrees. Furthermore, the tub rested on pillars in order to keep it suspended, instead of the usual "praefornium", thereby isolating the room and keeping the water hot. Passing through other rooms one reached a large hall, the “tepidarium”, with its large, perfectly preserved, vault ceiling. In the front there was a bathing tub with two upper niches to hold statues, while in a larger area there was a second semicircular tub. Out in the open there was the “frigidarium”, with a pool approximately 10 meters long, which could be accessed down three steps, the last of which formed a long seat that stretched all along the walls of this tub. Near the “frigidarium” there was a unique room formed of two jutting parts with 4 windows on the south and west sides, suitable for being heated by the sun’s rays. This could maybe have been a “heriocaminus” or solar heater which with the help of heated sand produced a steam bath.

To the south of the ancient road that leads to Tolfa there are still some ruins that belonged to the baths complex which refer to a library with its annexes situated asymmetrically to the sides and which intercommunicated between each other. The large hall was situated in the center, with 8 rectangular niches approximately 60 cm above the floor which held book shelves. The room had 12 fluted marble columns; the pavements, as evidenced by the poor traces still visible, was in “opus sectile”. One reached this room through a portico and then, down a stairway to the cryptoporticus created for taking walks under cover. Always to the west, at the end of the cryptoporticus, there were various independent rooms, as well as a much larger room for conversations or representational activities. Next to the hall there was a succession of not better identified small rooms. To the east of the cryptoporticus there 9 rooms that faced an independent passage way. To the South-West of the complex there was large open area, with a large hall that opened out onto the garden. Traces of unexplored structures out towards the east supposes that the complex was even more extensive and held other buildings.

A general interpretation of the bath area, to the extent possible, seems to be limited and impartial. There is no doubt that towards the North there is an ancient sector were a larger sector was added towards the south in subsequent eras. The two sector must have been used simultaneously, also because the more ancient one shows no sign of ever having been abandoned. The fact that double rooms existed for the same purpose and were continuously used, goes to show that there was a considerable volume of visits and hence, the use of duplicate equipment became necessary in order to handle the numerous public. Furthermore, the entire system appears to be particularly sophisticated, with interesting technical details that facilitated the use of the bathing complex. Lastly, the refinement and care put into the decorations are noteworthy, together with the details of some of the architectonic solutions, all of which testify that the work was not carried out by rugged laborers but by specialized masters hired by important contractors who in turn where supervised by architects on the basis of specific projects.

Civitavecchia, Roman Baths Shuttle Bus Shore Excursion
Civitavecchia, Roman Baths Shuttle Bus Shore Excursion
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