Hometo doThe baths of Constantine

The baths of Constantine

Street, Dominique Maïsto,
04 90 49 59 05
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Date: 4th century
Era: Antiquity
Type: Sports and leisure architecture
Status: Property of the Town of Arles (the exposed section), listed as a national Historic Monument in 1840 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981
A characteristic expression of Roman civilisation, the thermal baths were one of the most common public places.
Public baths did not become popular until the end of the Republic and the start of the Empire; the first baths did not appear in Rome until the 1st century BC and did not really become popular until the invention of hypocausts at the start of the new millennium.
Thermal baths were inextricably linked with the comfort of urban life during the Imperial age, and combined physical exercise, which took place in the palestra (training area), with the baths which provided bodily hygiene.
Every afternoon, the entire population, women first, then men, observed the rite of dry sweating, hot baths where the skin was splashed with boiling water then scraped with a strigil (a kind of small scraper), followed by the warm room and the cold pool. The routine ended with a vigorous massage.
As well as being used for hygiene purposes, the baths also played an important social role and were a very popular meeting place. Entrance was free, or almost free, and it was possible to practise sport, watch shows or visit the library.
We know about the existence of three thermal baths in Arles. The first were discovered on Place de la République in 1675, during the erection of the obelisk, and are now underneath this monument.
Another thermal construction, whose layout remains hypothetical, was constructed around the beginning of the 3rd century outside the ramparts, to the south of the town.
The Constantine Baths described here can be added to these two establishments.
The success of the thermal baths is due to a large extent to the invention of hypocausts.
These allow hot air to be circulated under the floor of raised rooms, thanks to small piles of bricks called suspensura.
The air then left through vertical channels called tubuli, which were placed inside walls. These different elements can still be seen in the Arles baths.
Most of the large original thermal establishment has now been now incorporated into local houses.
Currently, only the northern part of the structure has been exposed. It comprises mainly the hot rooms and service rooms.
Despite the almost total disappearance of the suspensura, the circulation floor, it is fairly easy to understand the organisation of this part of the structure, whose main element is the caldarium, the hot room, with its vaulted pool.
The construction, with its alternating layers of bricks and small, very regular limestone blocks, is based around a semi-circular semi-apse lit by three high semi-circular windows and covered by a grandiose semi-dome.
Two other rectangular pools were located on either side of the central room and the eastern pool still has its marble paving and part of the tubuli.
Several furnaces heated the caldarium. A veritable heating room was located in the north-east corner of the building, together with a furnace in the south-west corner of the southern room.
Two doors led from the caldarium to an adjoining room to the south, the warm room or tepidarium. It has lost all of its floor, but still has a western apse, which was recently excavated then banked up while waiting for restoration.
To the east is another hot room, probably the laconicum or heated room.
The rest of the complex has not been unearthed. The houses immediately adjoining the site, to the south, use the same walls as the frigidarium, the cold bath. Some often remarkably conserved remains allow it to be described as a vast rectangular room bordered at the ends by an apse.

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