Today’s episode from our free series of articles with audio, ‘La storia di Roma‘, is about the Romans’ impressive works of architecture and engineering: roads and amphitheatres, obviously, but also triumphal archs, thermal spas, and erm… drains.
Drains were important to carry away the waste from the ‘public baths’, which aren’t what you’re thinking. ‘Public baths’ in ancient Rome were what Americans today call ‘bathrooms’, not ‘baths’ as in Bath, England. Which, incidentally, is now being marketed as “The Original Wellbeing Destination“, due to its origins as a Roman thermal spa. It’s a place to relax and ‘take the waters’ not a toilet (except on weekend evenings when the pubs are open…)
Confused? If you want to get naked and relax with your mates, you need a spa (terme), whereas if you’ve had a dodgy curry and/or too much beer, you’ll need to look out for a handy ‘bagno pubblico’ (public toilet).
Now that’s clear, it should be noted that both the ‘terme’ and the ‘bagni pubblici’ were popular venues for doing business (in the acutal sense of the word as well as euphemistically) and swapping political gossip. Well, why NOT kill two birds with one stone? I guess privacy wasn’t a thing.
Back to drains, there was even a ‘Godess of drains’, apparently. Her name was Venere Cloacina (‘Venus Little Sewer) and she was ‘protettrice’ of the ‘Cloaca Maxima’ (‘supreme drain’), Rome’s earliest and most important work of public hygiene infrastructure. I wonder what it needed protecting from? (Friday’s Fun Fact: the drains were open rather than buried, so the bodies of disgraced Romans could sometimes be seen floating by.)
While the Colosseum (a nickname from the middle ages – it’s actually the Amphitheatrum Flavium) certainly makes a nice picture postcard to send back to the office, as well as being the ‘de rigueur’ background for your ‘I’m in Rome!’ selfie, it must have been the less-obvious engineering projects that puzzled visiting barbarians.
I imagine them like modern-day tourists pondering the purpose of a hotel room bidet: you say they do their business WHERE? And they conquered the known-world while spending their afternoons sitting in HOT WATER?
A lunedì, allora.