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Interpretation Abroad: Roman Baths

Micheline Newton 2022

On a recent trip to see family back in the UK I visited the Roman Baths in the city of Bath. The Roman Baths consists of the preserved remains of one of the greatest religious spas of the ancient world. A thermal spring rises in the site and supplies the site with natural hot water.

Pre-visit

The website was easy to navigate and had all the information I needed to plan my trip and compliment learnings.

Touring the Roman Baths

 

To keep the flow of visitors through the site comfortable capacity is capped for each session offered. Online booking meant it was easier to plan our day in the city around the Roman Baths visit. Onsite ticket sales were still possible but would have encountered queues.

Access routes were clear and the staff friendly. On entry equipment for a self-guided audio tour was given plus a quick lesson on how to use it. Twelve languages were available, and two general self-directed tours were available for adults and children (only three languages available for the children). Printed language sheets were also available. The introduction noted that there were various stops along the route where you could listen to stories of the people or place and icons used to designate what button to push to listen to a story also instigated by icons throughout the baths.

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Interestingly after only two stops I decided to try the children’s audio and found myself listening to this throughout the rest of the tour. The content narrated by Michael Rosen featured Roman characters and their stories. Rather than supply dry information it transformed you to the place, imagining what it was like for people visiting the Baths which made it more engaging.

Visitors could also listen to audio from Bill Bryson providing his witty observations on life, history, and society.

‘Trowel’ and ‘Hammer and Chisel’ tours were also available to those  interested in the architecture and archaeological exploration of the site.

There was a wide variety of media used to enrich the visitor experience throughout the tour:

  • A model of the temple and baths complex at Aqua Sulis provided a sense of size of the various areas:

  • A gallery of objects and artifacts tells visitors about the people who lived and worked in the area plus those who visited the Roman religious spa.

Audio visual used here introduced visitors to soldiers who spoke of their experience of the city such as Vitalis, armourer of the 20th Legion who died aged 29yrs and lies within the baths.

  • Key architectural finds and visual projections displayed on the walls were used to complete the view of the architecture where parts of the structures are missing. The Temple pediment was the most interesting and invited visitors to sit in a small amphitheatre to view the projections as its many attributes were explained.

  • Digital reconstructions were used effectively to demonstrate use of the Temple Courtyard where worshippers gathered to pray for the goddess Sulis Minerva.

  • You can view the spring water throughout the tour enabling visitors to picture the journey of the water through the site, how the water was used and understand better the value placed on its healing properties. You can also taste the spa water, containing forty-three minerals from a spa fountain in the west baths.

Walking on the original cobbled floor sunk beneath the main city centre I felt a real sense of immersion to the site and what it would have been like to be there.

  • As you walk through the heated rooms of the bath house, displays including projections, soundscapes and CGI reconstructions showed the Roman Baths at the height of its popularity.

Accessibility

I was interested to know how the Roman Baths would provide for accessible needs as much of the ground was often uneven and rooms underground had smaller spaces.

 

The Roman Baths team consider the site to be 90% accessible. A few steps are necessary for full site enjoyment and a lift took visitors to both the top level outside and the underground rooms. The planning advice for visitors with access needs was comprehensive and provided clarity regarding setting expectations, guide options available and customer support.

 

Overall experience

I really enjoyed my experience at the Roman Baths. Although expensive in NZ terms at $50 per adult and $150 per family of four it was worthwhile. There were lots to view and experience and the mix of media used kept me engaged. I felt a sense of stepping back in time at various points.

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