When I walked down the Via delle Terme di Caracalla, the Baths of Caracalla towered above the street, forming their very own and classical skyline against the late afternoon Roman sky. After walking up, I entered an almost completely empty grounds on which the ruins can be found. When I turned the corner, I could see the remains of the front of the baths in all glory, their colour a warm orange thanks to the rays of sunlight reaching them. In combination with the flat-topped trees in front and the silence around me, I almost forgot I was in Rome. I walked along the entire front, enjoyed the great light falling on the front of the ruins, and was about to leave the grounds again a little disappointed, when I noticed a small entrance. It gave access to the interior of the ruins, which proved to be the highlight of my visit.
I entered what must have been a big hall, with remains of mosaics on the floor: colourful geometrical figures, triangles and circles, but also fish, humans and other worldly figures. This was actually the palaestra, or gym. When I continued walking in the complex, it was easy to see the remains of the different pools and baths. The Romans had an advanced system to guide water in various temperatures to different baths, allowing visitors to use either the cold, luke-warm or hot pool. While the ruins leave a lot to the imagination, a reconstruction of the baths as they are thought to have been, leaves the impression of very luxurious leisure place, with statues, fountains, marble seats, beautifully executed mosaics decorating the floors, walls and ceilings. The outside swimming pool, for instance, was equipped with bronze mirrors which could reflect the sunlight to the swimmers in the pool from above.
The Baths of Caracalla were obviously built under the reign of Caracalla, in the early 3rd century CE, and were the largest thermae of their kind in the world. It was able to accomodate 1600 bathers. The Terme di Caracalla were very much a predecessor of modern multi-functional thermae, containing more than just a pool and baths. For instance, they held a public library: two equally sized rooms had texts available in Greek and Roman. Then there were gyms where people could practice boxing or wrestling. You could have a massage if you so wanted. And, to top it all off, one side of the complex was a shopping area. Outside, gardens provided for an opportunity to have a stroll and meet friends. Incredible for us, access to the Terme di Caracalla was free. Renting out space for shops and brothels helped to cover costs of the public baths. The baths functioned until 537CE when the invading Goths destroyed the Aqua Maria aquaduct - the water feeder of the baths.
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