Water is essential for life. That is probably why springs and baths as recreation spots can be found everywhere including Rome. Baths of Diocletian is largest thermal public baths built in the imperial era of emperors. The baths span more than 13 hectares and can hold up people up to 3000 at once. The structure also is completed with various facilities such as 3500 square meters swimming pool, gymnasia, and libraries. The baths complex is located on Viminal, the smallest hill of the Seven Hills of Rome, inside the Agger of the Servian Wall.
The History of Baths of Diocletian
Built between 298 and 306 AD, the public baths were commissioned by Maximian and constructed under the reign of Constantius, the father of Rome great emperor, Constantine. The baths were dedicated for Emperor Diocletian right after he returned from Africa.
The baths were once destroyed into ruins in the fourth century when Goths invading the city. Luckily, some parts survive because they were preserved as integrated parts of buildings that were constructed later such as San Bernardo alle Terme church, Santa Maria degli Angeli and Aula Attagona.
As the largest baths in Rome, Baths of Diocletian comprised 3500 square meters area. It had the similar structure of Baths of Caracalla and Baths of Trajan which both had a central axis around the location of the actual baths. The water then led through Aqua Iovia to the large water basin which is located near Termini train station.
The complex of the baths was categorized into three parts, the frigidarium (cold bath), the tepidarium (lukewarm bath), and the calidarium (hot bath).
The name comes from the word “frigeo” which means “to be cold” in Latin. As the name suggests, these baths were running cold water. The area consisted of a pool surrounded with small baths which were connected to the main room. The water in the main room came from a pipe that connects into the pool. Some think that the waste water from frigidarium was reused to flush the latrines within the complex.
In early of the fourth century, the frigidarium was gaining more popularity compared to the caldarium. Ancient Rome people usually bathed in the frigidarium after they bathed in the caldarium (hot water bath) or after they exercised in the palaestra. The frigidarium was also believed to be some sort of social room where people gathered and talked due to its grand size. Some statues and niches along the walls are good evidences to support this theory.
Opposite to the frigidarium, the caldarium was an area of hot-water baths and saunas. The name originates from “caleo” which means “to be hot” in Latin. The main room of caldarium was rectangular, surrounded by small octagonal small rooms. From the design of it, it seems that the architect of caldarium tried to imitate Nero’s and Titus’ older baths.
The small rooms surrounding the caldarium are believed not to only function as baths solely. Historians believe that these rooms were also used for poetry readings, rhetoricians, and dressing rooms or apodyteria. There were also some other areas that were attached to caldarium such as gymnasiums, lounging rooms, reading rooms, and a garden.
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
The church is located on the northeast of Piazza delle Terme. It was built in the 16th century following the design of the highly renowned artist Michelangelo. Its construction was finally completed in 1563 when Michelangelo was already 88 years old. The cloister in front of the church was also designed by Michelangelo even though he never saw the completion on it which happened one year after his death.
The site of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri is where the tepidarium was once located. Some parts of the tepidarium can be seen as parts of the church now such as the granite columns which were once used to support the roof of the baths.
Museo delle Terme di Diocleziano
The cloister is also home to one of Museo Nazionale Romano’s deparment called Museo delle Terme di Diocleziano. This museum is known to be one of the most important museum which house antiquities. Its collection comprises 10,000 inscriptions and epigraphs. There are also numerous historic artifacts kept here.
Visiting Baths of Diocletian
The baths are under restoration so not all parts of the Baths can be accessed. However, there are other places can be visited such as the Aula Decima which hosts the big tomb of Platorini and two other tombs originated from the Necropolis.
Today, visitors can also enjoy the cloister designed by Michelangelo. It is a wonderful place to have a peaceful and silent moment while enjoying the beauty of the cloister. The cloister also provides enriching historical sight with so many statues, altars, reliefs, and sarcophagi coming from the Roman Empire.
The Baths of Diocletian is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 09.00 to 19.45. The latest admission is at 19.00. It is closed on 25 December and 1 January.
The ticket costs €7 full price. Citizens of European Union ages 18 to 24 or teachers with tenure can get the ticket for only €3.5. Citizens of European Union under 18 and over 65 get free admission.
Getting to Baths of Diocletian:
Bus lines available are C2, H, 36, 38, 40, 64, 86, 90, 92, 105, 170, 175, 217, 310, 360, 714, 910.
Metro lines available are A and B. Both stop at Termini station.