Everything you always wanted to know about roman Thermal bath in Pompeii and the Hypocaust system
Of corse, as you probably know, Pompeii was destroyed and signed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 a.D., with the result that this ancient roman city became a prototype of B.C. 1st century’s roman urbanism. The first excavations where further done in 1748 and consiquently all the 18th century. At any rate, King Carl’s III. of Bourbon, king of Naples and Sicily was responsible for the most iportant researches.
Different types of Thermal Bathes in Pompeii prove anyway that inhabitants and travelers enjoyed just two thousand years ago the daily body care.
Accordingly Pompeii has never had thermal springs or hot steam, as other regions. Obviously the Greek and Roman architects where able in brief to build and create public bathes and Thermal SPA with artificial hot water and steam. With this propose the aqueduct delivered the city even though the earthquakes time as good as possible with water. Admire for example in Pompeii the historical Water castle called “castellum aquea”!
Invention of a new thermal bath-system in Pompeii and throughout the whole empire:
The question is: What connects engineering with breeding oysters?
Sergius Orata lived in Campania form 140 – 91 B.C. He was truly a hydraulic engineer and successful merchant. He was although famous for his exquisite oysters and in paricular for the invention of the underfloor heating (Hypocaust).
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio wrote in fact about Sergius and the Hypocaust System:
First, as warm a spot as possible is to be selected, that is to say, one sheltered from the north and north-east. Equally important is that he hot and tepid baths are to receive their light from the winter west; but, if the nature of the place prevent that, at all events from the south, because the hours of bathing are principally from noon to evening. Finally care must be taken that the warm baths of the women and men adjoin, and have generally the same aspect; n order to the same furnace and vessels will serve both.
He continuous to write about the Thermal bath in the Roman empire and Pompeii:
In addition the caldrons over the furnaces are to be three in number, a first for hot water, a second for tepid water, and a third for cold water: as a result they must be so arranged, that hot water which runs out of the heated vessel, may be replaced by an equal quantity from the tepid vessel, which in like manner is supplied from the cold vessel, and that the arched cavities in which they stand may be finally heated by one fire. Therefore the floors of the hot baths are to be made as follows:
Finally Virtruvius discribes the pavement of the Thermal Bath as we can find in Pompeii:
First, the bottom is paved with tiles of a foot and a half inclining towards the furnace, in order to if a ball be thrown into it, it will not remain therein, but consiquently roll back to the mouth of the furnace; thus the flame will better spread out under the floor. Upon this, piers of eight inch bricks are raised, at such a distance from each other, that tiles of two feet may form their covering. The piers are to be two feet indeed in height, and also are to be laid in clay mixed with hair, on which the above-mentioned two feet tiles are placed, which carry the pavement.
All this details you will find in the Thermal Bath in Pompeii:
In ohter words, the size of baths must depend on the number of persons who frequent them. So that their proportions are as follow: their width is to be two thirds of their length, exclusive of the space round the bathing vessel (schola labri) and the gutter round it (alveus). Of course, the bathing vessel (labrum) should be lighted from above, so that the bye standers may not cast any shadow thereon, and thereby obstruct the light. At least the schola labri ought to be spacious, so that those who are waiting for their turn may be properly accommodated. With this propose in mind the width of the alveus between the wall of the labrum and the parapet must not be less than six feet, so that it may be commodious after the reduction of two feet, which are allotted to the lower step and the cushion….
However, discover on your personal Pompeii-Tour with your licensed Tourist Guide of Campania the various Thermal-baths!
Stabian Thermal Bath of Pompeii:
This is the city’s most ancient Bath building (2nd Century B.C.) which is situated in the center of the ancient Pompeii. The large sports square (Palestra) is furthermore impressive with its pool, the boccie-track and the massage-areas. In Roman Times was the visit of the bath a social event to meet friends and business-partners and in the second place important for the personal hygiene. In fact the men’s and women’s section are at least situated close together divided by the Praefurnium (furnace room). Today we would call this system SPA. Once provided the trained slaves for the body-beauty and the relax-massages of the bather. In fact, admire the Hypocaust System in the warm and hot Thermal area.
Visit the amazing Forum Thermal Bath: (close to the Main Square of the ancient city Pompeii):
The bath is situated on the upper site of the Forum or Main Square of the archeological site. For instance this luxury Thermal Bath was used only by men and decorated by skillful stucco. Insteat the sports area was small, comprehensible by the expensive central position of the thermal bath. Keep going we arrive to the changing room (apodyterium). A small pool is still situated in the corner and was once filled with cold water. This so called Frigidarium has an opening in the roofs dome cooling down the water naturally. At the same time the stucco decoration represents an animated race of cupids. In fact the extraordinary fresco colors are still to distinguish: Blue, yellow and red.
How to heat up the Thermal bath in Pompeii?
The following room, Tepidarium (warm room), was heated by a large bronze brazier, the archaic way to heat with coal. This coal brazier was specifically donated by a Politician and sponsor named M. Nigidio Vaccula. His name means literally cattle and consequently the decoration illustrates the horned cattle and his hooves! It became suddenly clear for voters whom to elect!
Rise your eyes! You will be astonished by the terracotta figures called Telamons (sculpted architectural supports depicting male figures)! Finally here you will guess how Romans where dressed taking a bath. Don’t forget in particular: People couldn’t sit down on the hot bronze- ore marble bench without protection currently they sacrificed their “family-crown jewels”! Take a look to the colored stucco on the ceiling. Amazing! This details you will find only by a private guided Tours with you Pompeii-Tour Guide.
Calidarium in the Forum Thermal bath, Pompeii:
The last room, close by the praefurnium, was called Calidarium (Hot room). At the right you will find a pool, where visitors therefore relaxed and talked about leisure like sports, gladiators fights, politics or women. Women? Yes, it’s easy to explain: we are in the men’s section! Forthermore the cold spring fountain was truly used to cool down the body’s-temperature. Various openings in the wall and the grate on the top of the bottom points out the heating system called “hypocaust”.
Obvious that the bather decided by their mood, where to spend their time. The Praefurnium (central heating) is still in an extraordinary condition.
Discovering the wealthy private and public bathes we can conclude that the city was once pretty rich, but don’t forget that the city was damage by continues earthquakes in the last two decades before the final countdown. Renovation works where going on.
The secrets about the Central Thermal Bath in Pompeii:
The so called Central bath in Pompeii where still in construction when the nightmare began. However, it was a projected for both sexes together. Therefore it’s to declare as family-bath where women and men together enjoyed their SPA experience. Note! In 2018 was found by the recently excavations the so called “last victim”. (resurches and diggings as work in progress)
As well you will be astonished by the Suburban Thermal bath, Pompeii:
The “Suburban Thermal bath” is situated near by Porta Marina Superiore (main entrance close to the circumvesuviana). You will find there as well a covered pool, as some frescos which show straordinary “extra services” of the most ancient profession of the world. (Not always to visit, dipends of researches).
Captivating: The Private Thermal bathes in Pompeii
Wealthy Private estates show the unbridled luxury, as we can admire in the “House of Menander” or “House of the Faun” by the remains of their private thermal bath. There is to mention especially the “House of Julia Felice”. It seems that she rebuilt her Estate after the Quake and rent it out to redeem her owe. It’s to compare with a hotel and restaurant. She lent each single part of her residence to visitors and guests. She had an extraordinary tast for the indoor disign!
Visit with you private Tourist Guide and Pompeii-Dweller the amazing gardens and the Thermal Bath. The astonishing frescos and the unique Peristyles will rub your attention. In addition, admire the “Triclinium” (dining room, where people seated on couches along three sides of the room).
Combine the visit of the historical roman Thermal Bath with the modern SPA of Pompeii and Campania!
Would you like combine your winter holiday with SPA experiences?
You will find the marvelous Ulisse SPA in the romantic down-town of Sorrento. The use in Italian Saunas and SPA is to be dressed with swimwear. You remind the thing with the crown-jewels? The brainwave is still the same. Ischia Island is world famous for the modern and natural Thermal bathes, as well as the area of Pozzuoli. Visit there the “Stufe di Nerone”, Pozzuoli/Naples (Italy). Enjoy on a south Italian winter day the outdoor Thermal complex.
Read and resurch about Thermal Bath complexes in Pompeii and the roman Empire as much as you want.
Certainly, the easiest way to know more about Pompeii and it’s amazing secrets is to book a private Tour with your Guide: experience a trip in time and be rubbed by history. Learning by doing is still the best way!
Cecilia Barbara Walch,
licensed Tourist Guide Region Campania/Italy
Archeological Guide Pompeii; Eugenio La Rocca, Mariette and Arnold de Vos (italian)
Roman Thermal Bath and antique body care, Erika Boedner (german)
A dictionary of Greek and Roman antiques, W. Smith
Virtuvius V,10, 63
Foto: © Cecilia Barbara Walch