Ancient Roman baths — frequented by gladiator spectators — uncovered in Spain. See them

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Soaking in a hot bath is a luxurious activity that people have enjoyed for thousands of years including the Romans as evidenced by a recent discovery.

In the ancient Roman world, where plagues were widely feared, bathing was a regularly practiced communal activity that took place in large, often opulent bathhouses. Today, their ruins can still be found scattered throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Recently, a remarkably well-preserved Roman bath was uncovered in southwest Spain, Félix Palma García, the director of the Consortium of the Monumental City of Mérida, told McClatchy News.

The stone ruins were unearthed during a six-month archaeological dig this year in Mérida, known as “the Rome of Spain,” García said in an email.

Mérida dates back to the earliest days of the Roman Empire when Caesar Augustus founded the colony in 25 BC. The city eventually grew to include all the trappings of a grand imperial outpost, including temples, theaters and aqueducts that funneled water in from distant springs.

Many of the city’s residents, particularly those living outside the walls, eventually fled due to internal insecurity and external factors, such as troublesome Germanic tribes on the fringes of the empire.

The baths were unearthed in Mérida, located about 200 miles southwest of Madrid.
The baths were unearthed in Mérida, located about 200 miles southwest of Madrid.

The recently discovered baths, distinguished by arches and columns, were part of a private residence located just outside the city walls, García said, though it would have also been frequented by members of the public.

The luxurious home, which would have been dotted with gardens and paved with mosaics, likely functioned as a kind of hotel, providing spa services to paying guests. The establishment would have counted visiting business people and spectators of local gladiatorial games as patrons.

With its many amenities, the residence’s baths might have rivaled some modern-day spas. It contained both hot and cold baths, changing rooms, multiple pools and a steam room complete with marble floors, according to García.

Areas that held subterranean ovens for heating the water and evacuation tunnels were also found at the site.

The area in which the residence was found has been a source of inexhaustible archaeological interest and has been the site of ongoing excavations for decades. The surrounding city, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, will likely continue to reveal more ancient treasures in the future, García said.

Mérida is located about 210 miles southwest of Madrid.

Google Translate was used to translate an email from Félix Palma García.

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