Friday, 3 April 2015

Bath: A Tub of History

Stylish. Unanimous. Uniform. Sleek.


The famous Royal Crescent.

Those words and their synonyms summarise Bath. A city which looks to have been built in one era, when in reality, it is part of as many eras as any city in these parts of the world. So what makes it so special? It's in the layers.

Or perhaps it's all in the footnotes.

The Romans founded it.

The Georgian era nobility kept it.

The 21st century stylises it.

When someone asks what period you would most like to go back to, what would you say?

In my experience, most people answer the question as asked. With what period they would love to visit or live in. The problem? Well, the past is never so shiny as we make it out to be and so very few answers are, "no I am quite happy in my own time period."

Today, Bath embodies that particular question. Prompting imaginations to run while as you walk streets lined with the gorgeous symmetry of Georgian design and local, golden Bath stone.

Step down an alley, peer through a crack and you'll start seeing something different. A bit like laying down tiles for a mosaic, Bath is not the sum of one thing. It is the sum of many things. Many eras. But literally built on top of the other.

Below street level, in a hideaway alley behind a row of homes, is the sole remaining Roman gateway. Now it is a just another arched doorway tucked away and forgotten.

Outside the Baths, this is all that's left of the Roman's here.

 Walk to the side of any building and you'll spy the cracks in the facade since the city died off for a time after the Romans left, picked up a little during the medieval period and then died again. Its life-curing waters from the United Kingdom's only hot springs, not enough to sustain the town.

That is, until the 1700's when Queen Anne decided she'd test the legendary water and thus it was built up, to the state it remains in today, with medieval buildings touched up and covered over with the tidy Grecian inspired symmetery and design which is so inconcruous against the time period's excessive fashion of giant hair and giant dresses.

Except for one thing, it's all a facade.

Look in the corner of your eye where you never want to look. Who knows what you'll see.

 Imagine this: elaborate head-pieces which often involved fruit, birds and even a model ship in one woman's hair, was a way to distract everyone's noses from everyone else (since utterly no one properly bathed back then). Even the bathing in the famous spring baths was done still in a mostly complete costume.

Ridiculous. But hey, they were human. We're still human. The internet is 95% full of ridiculous cat pictures and videos. Nothing changes. Humans still dress up, put on shows, put on masks and try on new faces, depending on the people they are with or situations they are in. 

Remembering, and musing upon facades and their place in our lives is the sole reason why I would say visit Bath. To spend the day exploring its hidden corners and tendency to secrete away things which aren't tidy, stylish and neat.

Like this hideout/cafe. Located behind various bushes secreted underneath a bridge of busy traffic.
For me, well, I love good wear and tear, prefering to side with the Japanese view that anything weathered has far more value than something still pristine and untouched. Wear shows use, history and love or desire. But that's me and my personal preference for life. Bath is a puzzle to be ripped apart rather than put back together which makes for an entertaining day of backwards thinking while you pause to photograph the stunning Pulteney Bridge (you might recognise it from the film of Les Miserables where Javert drops to his death), the dizzying Circus or austere Royal Crescent. 

Yes, this is that famous bridge.
 When you first visit Bath don't get pulled into the tourist traps of the Jane Austen Centre, the Roman Baths or the modern Thermae Bath Spa, the Fashion museum or other such attractions.

Start by walking around. Look. Explore. Peer into corners. You'll see wear, tear and ruin beyond the stylish wig of golden stone. Then go check out the tourist spots.

Compare. Which is better? Which is more real? It's not like the Georgian style is a Doctor Who-esque perception filter. Nope. It's real too. Just in a different way.

The Weeping Angels are coming.

And don't forget to try some of the spring water at the Roman Baths.

It will change your life. (Translation: Just open the flipping door and...snap).

Just maybe not how you were expecting.


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