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Friday, February 15, 2013

The Gift of Water

The Thermae Diocletiani

    Known in English as the Baths of Diocletian, this magnificent Early Imperial structure combined the great tradition of the old age and the advanced architecture of this new period.  Like most works of the time, this bathhouse was meant to immortalize the late Emperor Diocletian.  While Emperor Maxentius actually headed the operation that started in 298 CE, it would be left in the honor of the deceased ruler.  Meant to be larger than life, this single bathhouse was able to contain more than three thousand people at a time.  While based off of the Baths of Caracalla and Trajan, the tremendous size and terrific location made this the most memorable of the imperial gifts, finalized in 306 CE.  Built on the Viminal Hill, one of the original seven hills of Rome, water flowed through a series of aqueducts to the spacious rooms.  No expense was spared on this process, as the floors were entirely mosaic and frescoes lined almost every wall.  This structure lasted until the fourth century and the invasion of the Goths.  During their pillage, these people demolished the aqueduct, therefore making water much to scarce to be spared on recreation.  The physical structure underwent a great deal of damage and was eventually built over, so, other than the little saved by Michelangelo in later years, almost none of the original building remains. The portion of the baths that has been conserved has been converted into the Santa Maria deligi Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome.
    This, like the majority of bathhouses, was much more than a space filled with water.  Citizens gathered to this house which not only held baths but libraries, forums for public speaking, gymnasia, and swimming pools.  A social center only matched by the fountain for women, these baths proved to be the center for discussion, socializing, and serious debate.  Obviously hygienic and a positive influence on the welfare of the people, the baths also promoted a healthy city.  The center of this particular house consisted of the caldarium, tepidarium, and frigidarium.  Each in descending order of heat, the caldarium would hold scolding water and was usually used for therapeutic healing or relaxation.  The tepidarium was rather mild in comparison, and were the "warm" baths.  Finally, the frigidarium, by the name, contained frigid water and was also used for healing.  An incredible work, this system of bathhouses, while lost to the ages, will always be remembered as a centerpiece of Roman culture.*/Thermae_Diocletiani.html

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