The Baths of Caracalla in Rome are among the most impressive monuments in the Eternal City. The largely well-preserved ruins of these ancient Roman baths are in some spots almost 40 meters high. During the summer months the Baths are used for opera performances.
Baths of Caracalla Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 52 (Rione: Celio). Tel. +39 0639967700. Metro: Circo Massimo (line B). Opening hours: From 9 a.m. to 1 hour before sunset. Mondays from 09.00 to 13.00. Price: 8 Euro; 2 Euro for EU residents between 18 and 25 years old; free for young people below age 18 and disabled people. The Appia Antica Card, the Archeologia Card and the Roma Pass are valid at the Terme di Caracalla. On the first Sunday of the month, a visit to the monument is free of charge. Italian name: Terme di Caracalla.
There were a number of public baths in Roman times, but these were the most impressive, with walls as tall as 37 meters. The total area is about 10 hectares.
Caracalla started construction of the Baths bearing his name in the year 212. Its inauguration took place in 216.
The word Terme itself was a corruption of the Greek word for “hot springs”, Thèrmai.
The Terme di Caracalla functioned until the year 537, when the aqueducts leading water to the Baths were destroyed by the Goths. Even before that the baths had already been restored several times.
The Baths were then abandoned and became a sort of mine that was plundered by anybody in need of building materials. Despite this ransacking , the Baths of Caracalla are still the best example of thermal baths in the times of the Roman Empire.
The Baths of Caracalla consisted of a large central building, surrounded by a number of rooms. Four gates gave access to the complex.
The Terme could accommodate more than 1,500 people. Visitors could take a Turkish bath and relax in the calidarium (a room with hot water tanks), the tepidarium (lukewarm water) and the frigidarium (cold water).
There was an outdoor swimming pool called the natatio and also a kind of gym and a library in the complex.
Wealthier Romans could also pay to get massages.
Excavations took place in the 16th and 17th centuries. A good deal of the statues found during the excavations ended up in the private collection of the Farnese family. The two tubs that adorn Piazza Farnese were also originally from the thermal baths, while other important works of art are now on display in the Vatican Museums and the Napels National Archaeological Museum.
Underneath the complex was a network of corridors, where slaves ensured that the 50 furnaces that kept the water of the tepidarium and calidarium warm did not go out. These corridors were 6 meters wide and 6 meters high and there was even a roundabout to ensure that underground traffic ran smoothly.
The complex’s sewer system was underneath this network.
In 1912 a temple dedicated to the pagan God Mithras, who was worshipped in the east, was discovered underneath the Terme. Here young men were initiated by baptizing them in the blood of a bull slaughtered on the spot during the ceremony.
The temple consists of five rooms that communicate with the upper floor via a staircase. The large rectangular main room is closed off by cross vaults. The mosaic floor is white with black stripes. During the ceremonies, the faithful sat on two high benches against the side walls.
On one of the walls there is a fresco representing the God Mithra, together with a figure with a torch holding a sun disk in his left hand. In the middle of the room there is a rectangular slot, where the bull was probably sacrificed according to the ritual of the cult of Mithra.
This room gives access to another room with a stone bench and a small basin with a central staircase. In the Mithreum parts of an altar have been found, together with a group of statues depicting Mithra slaughtering a bull.
Women were not allowed to enter this Mithraeum, which was the largest in the entire Roman Empire.
During the summer months, the Terme di Caracalla are transformed into a temporary seat of the Teatro dell’Opera. (The first time this happened was during the fascist period, on the initiative of none other than Mussolini).