Bath: A short history of the ancient city

We have written about the city of Bath before. We have written about authors (besides Jane Austen) who have a connection to it. We have written about the role the city played in "Persuasion" and Jane Austen’s personal connection to the locations mentioned therein. We have even written about other books that take place there. We have written so much with good reason: Bath is an important city in the world of Austen. In addition to featuring in several of her books, Austen lived there with her family for a time. (Psst: You can read more about that time in her life in Claire Tomalin's biography of the author.) But even before Jane Austen entered the picture, Bath was an ancient city with a rich history.


Bath is home to three major naturally occurring hot springs. While there is no one theory set in stone (haha) for how they happen, most hypotheses accept that the rock formation dating to the Jurassic time period beneath the city disrupts the normal flow of groundwater causing it to heat up. So perhaps the dinosaurs are to thank for the city we know today!


Pulteney Bridge, in Bath, Somerset, UK, a World Heritage Site

While archeological evidence suggests Celts came to these hot springs as a shrine, any buildings or structures they may have made have been lost to time. Then, when the ancient Romans conquered and occupied the land that became England, they built the baths that gave the city its name and still stand today. Constructed from local limestone, the baths were built to honor a goddess that combined the Celtic goddess Sulis with the Roman goddess Minerva. The Romans' practice of incorporating local customs with their own would later become a common practice during the spread of Christianity during the Middle Ages.


In medieval Bath, the construction of an abbey meant it was a seat of some power within the church until the Normans rebuilt the church and moved the bishop to Wells. The city remained a trading hub for wool, but aside from occasional royalty, the baths themselves fell into disuse and were largely forgotten until 1755.


During the 18th century, Bath became a spa and the fashionable town to see and to be seen in. In this time, the Pulteney Bridge was built across the River Avon to the suburbs of Bath. This was also when many of the tourist attractions like the legendary Pump Room (which still exists today), the theater, the gardens and the Assembly Rooms were built.


Bath continued to be a popular tourist spot in its own right well before the popularity of Jane Austen made it a literary destination. Several of the assembly rooms from her time were bombed during World War II, and interest in the baths dwindled in the middle of the 20th century. Now Bath is home to a fashion museum as well as a university. The baths have seen another rise in popularity thanks in no small part to Janites such as you.


While no one may be touring Bath these days, you can take a virtual tour of this historic city here.


Or try one of the many YouTube videos like this one.


Or more simply, draw yourself a nice hot bath in your own home and read your favorite Jane Austen novel and imagine yourself there.


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