Beyond the Roman Baths in the city of Bath, England:
Georgian architecture, history, shopping, parks, and more
The English city of Bath is set in the valley of the Avon River in the county of Somerset. The ruins of Roman baths are what draw many visitors to this city, but there is a lot more than the baths to this beautiful city, as I discovered during a day trip to Bath. The central area of the city is very walkable.
The city of Bath was established as Aquae Sulis by the Romans in the first century AD. The Romans built a temple and series of bath houses around natural thermal springs. The history of the city after the Romans withdrew from Britain is one of redevelopment and rebuilding. One of the largest development periods occurred in Georgian times, when Bath became a fashionable resort town and a popular spot for upper-crust society. The buildings from this period are what gives modern-day Bath its distinctive look. The Georgian architecture and the Roman Baths have led to the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
The Bath of today was shaped by the vision of architect John Wood, who came to Bath in the eighteenth century. His scheme of how the city should be developed was based on the teachings of Italian architect Andrea Palladio. The warm, honey-coloured stone found on many of the buildings is Bath Stone, a fine-grained, soft limestone mined just outside Bath.
The Circus is an example of the Georgian architecture in Bath. Originally known as the King’s Circus, it was designed by John Wood the elder. It is a circular space surrounded by townhouses. The Circus, along with Queen’s Square and adjoining Gay Street form a key shape. The grassy area in the centre of the Circus was once a reservoir supplying water to surrounding houses. It became a park for residents in the 1800s. The detail on the stonework of the buildings contains many emblems, such as serpents, acorns, nautical and masonic symbols.
The Royal Crescent was designed by John Wood the younger, and built between 1767 and 1775. It is a row of thirty terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. The Georgian facade remains much as it was when originally built. Number 1 is an historic house museum providing a picture of Georgian life. The Royal Crescent Hotel occupies numbers 15 and 16.
The Assembly Rooms are an entertainment venue built in 1771 by Richard “Beau” Nash, another leading architect of the Georgian redevelopment. They were at the heart of Georgian society. Each of the four rooms, the Great Octagon, Tea Room, Ball Room, and Card Room, had a specific purpose. Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806 and two of her novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. are partially set in the city. The Assembly Rooms feature in a scene in Persuasion. Today, there is a renowed Fashion Museum on the first floor. There is an entrance fee for the museum, but you can wander through the assembly rooms for free and imagine yourself living the refined life of the eighteenth century elite.
Building of Bath Abbey began in 1499. It is the last of the great medieval churches of England. It is the third church to be built on this site. An Anglo-Saxon Abbey Church was built in AD 757. Work on a large Norman cathedral began in the late eleventh century.
I truly enjoyed my day in Bath, but one can easily spend several days here or return again and again. In one day I did not have time to take in all the Bath has to offer, from canal rides to arts performances to its many museums. In addition to the those already mentioned, No 1 Royal Crescent , the Fashion Museum, and the Roman Baths, others include the Jane Austin Centre offering a snapshot of life in Regency times, the Holburne Museum art gallery, and the Museum of Bath Architecture. Or you can spend hours walking the streets and visiting the many shops, stopping at coffeehouses, pubs, and restaurants along the way.
Note that Bath is a popular destination and can be very busy on weekends and finding parking may be a challenge. The Bath visitor site has a list of car parks. We used the Bath Cricket Club car park.
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