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23 septiembre 2022

Route of Caesaraugusta (III): Museum of Public Baths

Between the Forum and the Theater of ancient Caesaraugusta (Zaragoza), stand the public baths of the city. In addition to being a bathing place, they served as a meeting point for the Roman high society as a center of social and cultural life. Discover the remains of the latrines, the porticoed pool or the objects they used, as well as the figure of the Aedile on a route through the Museum of the Public Baths of Caesaraugusta.

Zaragoza was an important Roman city in the peninsula and proof of this, as we have been showing you, are the many archaeological remains found throughout the city. The four museums that form the Route of Caesaraugusta and that we are bringing to you are: the Museum of the Public Baths, the Museum of the Theater, the Museum of the Forum and the Museum of the Fluvial Port. Today we bring you the baths that were the delight of the inhabitants of the city.

Zaragoza is the only Roman city that had the privilege of bearing the full name of the Emperor Caesar Augustus and received the rank of immune colony of Roman citizens. Its vestiges of the imperial era are a treasure and are collected in a route of museums that can be done on foot. It is a historical but very didactic route, perfect for the whole family. A journey through time to know the political center and the most emblematic buildings.

Integrated within the well-known route of Caesaraugusta, the Museum of the Public Baths recalls the history of this center of recreation of the Roman life. Located in a strategic area between the Forum and the Theater, the public baths were public bathing areas and served a social and political function. The extensive activity of these baths spanned from the 1st century A.D. to the beginning of the 4th century.

public baths
Columns of the latrines in the Museo de las Termas in Zaragoza (Photo: zaragozago.com).

Meeting point of the Roman high society

The first remains of these baths were found in 1982 after works were carried out in San Juan and San Pedro streets. Beyond the purely purifying and cleansing function, this place served as a center of social and cultural life. Proof of this are the activities that were carried out in the instances such as reading, walking, listening to music, reading poetry or practicing sports. There was no particular order of travel, depending on the personal taste of each person, alternating hot and cold baths. Men and women were usually separated, either by zones or by schedules.

public baths
Public baths of Caesaraugusta (Photo: zaragozaguia.com).

The figure of the Aedile, the supervisor of the baths.

Intrinsic to the political and institutional life of Caesaraugusta, there was an extremely important position. The Aedile was in charge of supervising the administration, maintenance and conservation of the public baths. As they belonged to the city, they had to be well supplied with running water and firewood.

Such was the work of this figure that the visit to the museum begins with the audiovisual projection of an Aedile of Caesaraugusta where he writes a letter to his friend. During the viewing of the same one, the aedile narrates the amplitude and excellence of the facilities, as well as its route and the offered services in a perfect description of the place like the summit of the refined pleasure.

Museum of the Roman Thermal Baths
Museum of the Roman Thermal Baths in Zaragoza (Photo: zaragoza.es)

Following the tour, you will find three backlit tables that suggest the ideal reconstruction of the preserved architectural remains. To delve deeper into the life of the baths, a large display case shows objects that would be used for personal hygiene (towels, combs, tweezers, ointments, needles, strigils) along with several decorative marble slabs from the wall of the portico of the pool. In addition, a model of a thermal baths, inspired by Los Bañales (Uncastillo), has also been installed.

From the latrines to the porticoed pool

From the first stages of the public baths are the remains of latrines in operation at the end of the 1st century BC. With a square floor plan, the room would have had a capacity for twenty-nine people. Currently, part of one of its side walls has been reconstructed, with the benches that served as seats for the users. The fate of these latrines mutated to mount on them an open-air porticoed pool.

Of this natatio (open-air swimming pool for the Romans) from the middle of the 1st century A.D., only 9.7 meters of what was once 16 meters long are preserved. Of the portico that surrounded the pool (whose height could have reached 5 or 6 meters), the remains of three column bases and several of its supports are preserved. In addition, from the covering of its walls, several pieces of decorative marble with geometric figures, crossed shields and other motifs are preserved.

Private baths in ancient Caesaraugusta

However, the Museum of the Public Baths of Caesaraugusta is not the only vestige that bears witness to the thermal life of Roman times. In Prudencio Street in Zaragoza, drainage channels belonging to private thermal facilities have been found. Even in the current Plaza del Pilar, remains of a caldarium and a frigidarium of a suburban villa have been discovered.

See the rest of the museums of Caesaraugusta here

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