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Rome, Italy - the Diocletian baths - visit with the Rome archaeological pass

The Diocletian Baths is one of the nine Rome museums / archaeological sites that may be visited using the Rome Archaeological pass. Below is some background information.

The Terme di Diocleziano, or Diocletian baths were commenced by Diocletian: a Roman emperor who never even set foot in the city. these baths were completed in the early 4th century.

Diocletian sought to outdo his predecessor by commissioning the largest bathing establishment the world had ever seen. Of course a Roman baths was about far more than washing: these were social centres. The complex of libraries, concert halls and gardens covered some 32 acres and could accommodate 3,000 people.

The whole affair was twice as big as the Baths of Caracalla and had the full array of bathing options. The caldarium (or hot room) extended into what is now the Piazza della Repubblica, and there were hot, cold and tepid pools. The building was lavishly decorated with mosaic floors and marble facades.

The baths were built of brick faced on the inside with marble and on the outside with white stucco (aping the blocks of white marble of the Baths of Caracalla. The huge central hall, 280 by 160 yards, was an extraordinary achievement of engineering that was the model for the Basilica of Maxentius in the Roman Forum.

At the time of the construction there were two emperors, Diocletian ruling in Asia Minor while Maximian controlled the western empire. And it was Maximian, returned from Africa, who oversaw the building. Some 10,000 Christians were used as slave labour in the construction. The job took from 300 to 305AD, just as the dual emperors were forced to abdicate.

Still, emperors came and went (and Diocletian enjoyed eight years of comfortable retirement in his homeland of Croatia) but the Romans had a magnificent baths. But Rome was already falling into the pit of the Dark Ages. In 538 the Goths, who destroyed so much that Rome had built, cut off the city’s water by demolishing the aqueducts, rendering Rome’s 900 baths useless.

Fast forward a thousand years and we see Pope Pius IV Medici commissioning the 86-year-old in 1561, honouring the Christians killed in the construction of the baths. Parts of the baths were incorporated into the resulting Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Luigi Vanvitelli was to rebuild the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in the eighteenth century, and the site now forms part of the Museo Nazionale Romano, along with the Crypta Balbi, the Palazzo Altemps and the Palazzo Massimo.

But most of the old bathing complex is gone, much of it pillaged for building materials during the Dark Ages. The clues are there though: the curved colonnade of Piazza della Repubblica follows the outer wall of the former great exedra. A few blocks away in either direction are two rotundas marking the corners of the original gardens: one of these is the Baroque Church of San Bernardo alle Terme (another clue) built in the year 1600.

The entrance to the church originally separated the old hot baths (the caldarium) from the lukewarm tepidarium … this is now the church’s vestibule. Here you’ll see the statue of St Bruno, founder of the Carthusian order, by Jean-Antoine Houdon. You are entering the ancient bath’s central hall. The altar is straight ahead while most of the original baths runs in both directions toward the altars on either side. Italian state funerals are usually held here. During the Christmas and Easter seasons there are concerts of religious music.

Pay special attention the meridian. This sundial on the right side of the transept, dating from 1703, was for 150 years used to determine midday for the city of Rome. Light comes in through an opening high on the wall and falls upon a brass strip in the floor: the north-south meridian of Rome. When the sun lines up exactly with the brass strip, the time is High Noon.

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With reference to people coming from the countries of Israel, Canada, Japan and the United States, it should be noted that in relation to vaccination certificates issued by the health authorities of these countries, in accordance with the provisions of EU Recommendation no. 2021/912 of 20 May 2021, they must include at least the following data:

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PLEASE NOTE: If you do not have a Green Pass and a valid identity document, you will not be able to access and your ticket will not be refunded. For further information www.dgc.gov.it

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