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Italy: Baths of Diocletian

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Baths of Diocletian | Italy | Europe

[Visited: March 2012]

Ever since I heard about the Baths of Diocletian, I very much wanted to see them. I once passed by on a rainy day, but for some reason, the magnitude escaped me. On this sunny day in early spring in the Italian capital, I was on my way to the erstwhile bathing complex, determined to explore it further. When I reached the Piazza della Repubblica, with its fountain right in the middle, and the hectic Roman traffic speeding by, my eyes were drawn to the opposite side of the street, where I discovered old, sturdy walls of brick. Coming closer, I noticed the entrance to a seemingly small church, the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, built right into the ruins of the old walls of the baths. Unfortunately, the grounds next to the church were closed, so I wet into the church itself. I could not directly see remains of the baths here, even though old plans of the baths indicate that it is constructed where once the calidarium, tepidarium, and frigidarium were - I supposed the basement might hold remains of those structures.

Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): The entrance of the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri church in the former Baths of Diocletian

Leaving the church on the backside took me back to the Roman baths, a small patio made clear how the old, thick walls were integrated and used for making the church. Pope Pio IV commissioned the church in 1561, and it is said that the great Michelangelo designed at the very end of his life - he would die in 1564. Entering the street again, I saw more enormously thick walls, cut through by roads on which traffic flowed by. It was one more reminder of how the modern city of Rome is sometimes seamlessly integrated with its rich ancient history. Here, too, the grounds were off limits, but climbing to the fence around it, I could see what I imagined were finds of archeologists working the grounds: remains of columns and other artefacts. While the walls we now see are impressive in themselves, it is said that the Baths of Diocletian were once beautifully decorated both in- and outside. From here, I walked to the famous Aula Ottagona, once the planetarium of the Diocletian complex and now turned into a museum. I had hoped to enter, just to get an idea of the inside of the great Terme di Diocleziano or Diocletian Baths, but the building appeared closed, so I decided to walk around the complex in search of more proof of the baths.

Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): Remains of the old Baths of Diocletian blending in with the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri church

Walking where once the gymnasium was - apart from baths that could accommodate 3,000 persons at any one time, the Baths of Diocletian comprised pools, a planetarium, libraries, concert halls, gardens, and exhibition halls - I finally reached the entrance of the national museum, which is built inside the complex of Diocletian. The small park right in front of it, full of broken sarcophagi, columns, busts, and other classical artifacts, and a charming little fountain in the middle, was inviting enough, and after getting a ticket, I finally walked inside the complex proper. I directly went to the Aula X, an exhibition room of the museum in one of the enormous halls of the Baths of Diocletian. I felt dwarfed by the space, in which I saw three ancient tombs on display, among other things. Behind, I saw workmen busy with other parts of the ruins - hopefully, it will be possible to visit more of the old baths in the future. For now, I was happy to go to the pretty cloister that is attributed to Michelangelo, even though probably built by someone else. An interesting fountain in the middle with statues of 8 animals, the cloister has colonnaded arched hallways in a square around it, flowers and trees in the middle, and is a great place for a quiet moment in the busy city. After visiting the museum, I went to where once a cylindrical tower stood on the southwest corner of the Diocletian Baths complex, and where now the circular church of San Bernardo alle Terme has been built. Walking and enjoying the former complex ground had taken me hours. As in other parts in Rome, part of the fun of enjoying these historic sights lies in using your imagination.

Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): The site of the former entrance of the Terme di Diocleziano, the cloister of Michelangelo was planned by Pope Pio IV
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): The entrance of the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in the background, with sculpture of fountain on the Piazza della Repubblica in the foreground
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): Part of the walls of the Diocletian Baths can be seen from the Piazza della Repubblica, where a church has been built
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): One of the remaining buildings of the Diocletian Baths, the Aula Ottagona now is a museum
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): Enormous cupolas were part of the Baths of Diocletian
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): Mosaic displayed on a wall of the national museum in the Diocletian Baths
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): One enormous hall of the former Diocletian Baths, now turned into a museum hall
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): Sturdy walls reminding of the vast structure of the Baths of Diocletian
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): One of the many works of art on display in the national museum inside the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): Once a tower of the enormous Diocletian Baths, the San Bernardo alle Terme church was built recycling existing walls
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): Scene of old man and cat in door opening in a trompe l'oeuil painting at the cloister of Michelangelo
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): Small fountain surrounded by trees in the middle of the small square in front of the Baths of Diocletian
Picture of Baths of Diocletian (Italy): Close-up of wall painting inside the Baths of Diocletian museum

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