Pompeii’s Stabian Baths Reopen

Some good news out of Pompeii for a change … Harry Mount writes in the Telegraph:

After three years, the Stabian Baths in Pompeii were reopened to the public this week, allowing access to the women’s baths for the first time.

It’s hard to overestimate quite how much the Romans loved their gyms, spas and baths, but a visit to the Stabian Baths makes for a pretty good introduction. The Thermae Stabianae, the biggest baths in the city, are built on a vast scale, strung along Pompeii’s main street, the Via Dell’Abbondanza, running from the forum to the amphitheatre and the great palaestra – the gym and wrestling school.

The Stabian Baths had their own palaestra, flanked by an elegant Doric portico. Much of the extravagant decoration survives – stucco work, coffered ceilings and highly-coloured frescoes. There was also a bowling alley and swimming pool. But the focus was on the baths: the frigidarium (cold bath), tepidarium (warmer bath) with a plunge-bath, and the calidarium – the warm room with a plunge-bath and a washing basin.

We like to think of ourselves as a pampered, thoroughly modern race, showering ourselves with treats, minibreaks and spa treatments. But, as so often, the Romans got there first, spending thousands of sestertii on hot air hypocausts, on apodyteria (dressing rooms) and the praefurnium – the furnace and boilers that heated the water.

The Romans realised, too, how effective luxury was in seducing their foreign subjects. As Tacitus wrote, of the invasion of Britain in the first century AD, “The British fell for our fashions and started wearing togas. Little by little, they were drawn to things with a touch of sinfulness to them: drawing rooms, hot baths, elegant dinner parties. In their stupidity, they called all this civilisation, when it was all part of their servitude.”

Folks will want to check out the Daily Mail’s coverage as well, which has some really nice photos:

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