Exploring the Historical Marvels of the Baths of Caracalla

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Just a few meters from the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum and Circus Maximus, lie the ruins of the oldest and best-preserved complex of Roman baths to have survived to this day. We’re talking about the Baths built between 212 and 216 AD by the order of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Basianus, better known in history by the name Caracalla.

Unfortunately, what we can now admire is just a collection of bricks and imposing vaults, reaching heights of up to 30 meters, which were once grand architectural marvels. The Baths were, for the Romans, a tangible demonstration of their power.


Construction and Public Function: A Glimpse into Ancient Roman Luxury

The complex covered 23 hectares and consisted of a central area reserved for activities related to body care, along with a garden for leisurely strolls. Water supply, essential for any baths, was ensured by the Antonine Aqueduct, which poured up to 10,000 cubic meters of water into the cisterns. Adorned with colored marble and decorated with priceless works of art, Caracalla’s baths were the most sumptuous baths built in antiquity, surpassed in size but not in beauty, only by the later Baths of Diocletian. Up to 6,000 people could access the baths every day, which also played a significant social and cultural role.

Here, one could take care of their body, swim in the natatio, the immense outdoor pool, use the saunas, caldarium, frigidarium, and ablution areas. The Baths weren’t just a place for Romans to tend to their bodies: at Caracalla, it was possible to engage in sports, read in the library, stroll through the gardens, and pay homage to the god Mithras. The Baths of Caracalla remained in operation for about three centuries, even beyond the fall of the empire; in 537, the aqueducts supplying the site were destroyed by barbarians, and the sculptures adorning the baths were looted. Additionally, in 847, an earthquake destroyed part of the building.


The Underground Complex: Engineering Marvels of the Baths

The underground areas were the hub of the complex’s life, where hundreds of slaves and skilled workers tirelessly operated the ingenious technological machine of the Baths. Stretching for about two kilometers, the underground areas housed not only timber depots but also a heating system, waterworks, a mill, and the Mithraeum where initiation rituals for cult adepts likely took place.


The Baths Today: Exploring Ruins and Green Spaces

Unfortunately, very little of the charm and opulence that made the Baths of Caracalla great remains today. Testifying to that historical period, some exceptional artifacts remain, such as the granite fountain basins in Piazza Farnese in Rome and the Farnese Hercules and Bull on display in the Archaeological Museum of Naples.

Today, the Baths of Caracalla offer visitors the opportunity to explore the ruins of this extraordinary thermal complex and immerse themselves in its millennia-old history. Walking among the imposing walls and remains of the pools and baths provides a fascinating window into the past, allowing visitors to imagine daily life in ancient Rome.

The Baths of Caracalla offer much more than just a historical visit. The extensive green areas surrounding the ruins provide an ideal space to relax and enjoy a break from the city’s hustle and bustle. Many visitors choose to bring a book or a blanket and spend a few hours immersed in the tranquility and beauty of the surrounding park.

Furthermore, the Baths of Caracalla often host cultural events, including concerts, theatrical performances, and film screenings. These events offer visitors the opportunity to experience a unique blend of the beauty of the ruins with contemporary culture.

Photo credits: @Inviaggioiovolo on Tripadvisor

Hotel Santa Prisca is at only 20 minutes walking from the Baths of Caracalla.