The oldest bathhouses in Europe: Herculaneum

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2 mins read

One of the oldest bathouses known in Europe, located in the shadow of the vulcanic active Mount Vesuvius, you will find in Herculaneum, Italy. Around the first century AD, bathing was a daily routine, and ideal for social talks and business. Men and women had seperated dressing rooms and baths.

The changing room is characterised by shelves where clothes were placed and seats along the walls. The floor depicts Triton, a marine divinity among dolphins, an octupus, a squid and a cupid with a whip. Detail: the mozaik in the women’s changing room is more detailled than the one in the men’s.

Heated with thanks to Mount Vesuvius

The tepidarium is where the magic happened: this area was moderately heated and was the resting point between the hot and cool baths. Cool bathes were named frigidarium. After leaving their clothes in the apoditerium, or changing room, the Herculaneum people went to the swimming pool or the the gym. When they had finished doing physical exercises outside, they went back to the swimming pool or went into the room with hot baths called the caldarium. This was often near the laconicum, that is similar to Turkish baths: a room with extremely high temperatures. These rooms were heated, for hot air flowed from a boiler along the space under the raised floor and along spaces between the walls.

Yes, they had a gym

Finally, after a relaxing and social get together, the Hercaluneum people would have a rest. For their relaxation, it is said that they used linen or woolen towels, soda instead of soap, perfumed oils and a strigil: a metallic curved blade for cleansing the body which was most likely covered in oils and sand as a result of intensive gymnastic excercise.

Just outside this spectacular sight, you will find a field where men and women could flex their muscles prior to their visit to the baths. A tradition that is still celebrated in gyms around the world: after your fitness, you relax at the spa.

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