Posted by: Debra Kolkka | November 27, 2014

Caracalla, a Roman Spa

I saw the baths from a distance earlier in the year when I was on the Great Beauty tour in Rome. I went back to investigate when I stopped in Rome on the way back to Australia.

The Baths of Caracalla were the second largest Roman public baths built in the city. ( The Baths of Diocletian were the biggest) They were said to be built during the reign of Emperor Caracalla between AD 212 and 216. Some say it would have taken much longer to build something on this scale.

Baths of Caracalla

They could be correct..the site is huge. Amazingly much of it is still standing.

9000 workers were employed daily for approximately 5 years in order to create a huge platform of about 337 x 328 metres.

At the entrance is an impression of what the baths would have looked like.

Baths of Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla

The bath complex covered approximately 25 hectares. The bath building was 228 metres long, 116metres wide and 38.5 metres high. Thousands could use the baths daily. Those Romans could certainly build things on a grand scale.

The baths were free and open to the public. The Aqua Marcia aqueduct was built to bring water to the baths. The building was heated by a hypocaust, a system of burning coal and wood underneath the ground.

There were baths, swimming pools, dressing rooms, gyms, steam baths, shops and libraries in the complex. From the ancient main entrances, which led into the swimming pool, bathers could go into the dressing rooms and then the gyms.

After exercising, the visitors could have entered one of the laconia, for a steam bath, to prepare the body for the hot baths that were to follow in the caldarium. From there bathers would pass into the tepidarium and then to the largest and coolest indoor area, the frigidarium.

Come for a little walk through the ancient building. You can tell just how huge and impressive they must have been.

It is possible to see some of the mosaic floors and some of the decoration that wasn’t pilfered.

During the middle ages the baths were used as a quarry for precious materials: several figured capitals were reused in the Cathedral of Pisa and in the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Works of art were removed and turned up in collections of wealthy families.

Caracalla baths Rome

Caracalla baths Rome

The baths were in use until the 6th century when the Ostrogoths destroyed the hydraulic installations. It must have been a magnificent sight when it was in full swing. The citizens of Rome were very lucky to have such a place.

The grounds around the baths are beautiful.

Caracalla baths Rome

Caracalla baths Rome

Caracalla baths Rome

Caracalla baths Rome

Caracalla baths Rome

The Baths of Caracalla are a short walk from the Colusseum. On the day I was there very few people were wandering around the site, while the Colusseum was packed. The skies are very blue in my photos, but by the time I got back to the Colusseum it was raining heavily…hard to believe.

Take the time to walk a bit further and see this amazing place. I know you won’t be disappointed.

PS. I have added a hilarious cartoon to the previous post. Also read in The Australian, in the review section, and article by Deirdre Macken, about the ridiculous recent obsession about food.


  1. The Farnese family ordered much of the spoiling of the Caracalla Baths. Quite a few of its treasures ended up at the Palazzo Farnese. It used to be said that the Farnese caused more destruction than the Barbarians…
    Great article and photos, Debra!

    • Those big bathtub fountains in front of the Farnese palace are from Caracalla…not bad if you can get away with it.

  2. Fascinating history and information here, Debra! Loved this post

    • It is a stunning place. You could wander for hours there.

  3. Another amazing construction by the Romans. Beautiful mosaics.

    • It must have looked magnificent when it was complete.

  4. The last time I was in Italy my son and I visited the Caracalla. When I worked there in Rome, at FAO, many years earlier, it was right next door. The only opportunity to ‘go in’ was for a production of Carmen; in the evening. So it was truly awesome to go in decades later, take a lot of time to wander and try to comprehend how it was used. I took a lot of photos, but not the quality of yours, and it was those mosaic tiles that awed me the most…the colour still in them after all those years, all those feet and all the precipitation that pounded down on them. So remarkable, were you not also, gobsmacked?

    • I was enthralled by the place. To think what was achieved all those years ago is incredible.

  5. The bath at Carcalla, both the ruins and the artist’s impression of what they looked like, look impressive.

    • It is a very impressive sight even now in ruins.

  6. Enjoyed the post and pictures–good memories. A couple of years ago I wandered through the baths and found it fascinating. But my best memory of the Baths of Caracalla is from many summers ago–probably in the 80’s of being entranced watching the opera Aida presented there. Wow!

    • It is an amazing setting for an opera.

  7. Thanks Debra for an excellent set of photos. In 1965 I was an extra in a production of Aida, courtesy of the owner of our pensione who was a regular extra. He told us he would take us to the opera so we were amazed to find ourselves made up and waving a palm frond on the gigantic stage among the horses.

    • What fun that must have been.

  8. I saw Bizet’s Carmen there in 1957, live horses and all.

    • That must have been stunning.

  9. It’s fortunate that even this much remains isn’t it. The engineering and skill involved was mighty. I don’t think I should like an Ostrogoth if I met one.

    • Me either, silly sausages ruining the water systems.

  10. Stunning place!

    • It is, and I am surprised there were not more people there.

  11. We had a quick look at these on our first trip to Rome as they are so close to the Coloseum. So much to see in Rome! 🙂

    • It is really worth taking some time to walk around the baths.

  12. I haven’t heard about this place before… the scale of this structure is quite mind boggling…

    And it’s still standing tall after almost 1800 years… just amazing, right?

    Thanks a lot for sharing these images and info. 🙂

    • I think it is incredible that much of it is still standing. Things were built to last.

  13. Incredibly beautiful. Thank you.

    • It must have been absolutely stunning to see it when it was new.

  14. How amazing! I was just in my local gym earlier this evening… Those Romans knew a thing or two about creating truly amazing, inspiring spaces – and using them everyday of your life. Incredible that the baths weren’t overrun when you were there. I can’t wait to visit!

    • It is mind boggling that people were able to build things like this without power tools.

  15. Thanks for this post and to include my favorite sculptural trees. I think I would rather spend time here than in the Colloseum – but then I am not one for hordes of people.

    • The baths are stunning. I am pleased I finally got there.

  16. Magnificent. I can imagine myself going for a little rest and relaxation in those baths.
    The grounds are equally impressive. Do you know what kind of trees those are? They seem very unique to my eyes.

    • The are pine trees. The shape is very common in Italy, particularly Rome. I love them and instantly think of Rome when I see them.

      • I never would have guessed they are pine trees. They don’t look much like the pine trees we have here in the US. I’m glad I asked. Thanks for sharing.

  17. one of my favorite spots in Rome. Never crowded and so amazing. Loved wandering though with you.

    • I think it is an amazing place. I wandered almost alone through the baths.

  18. Bummer … we missed them on our trip to Rome … thus seems like a reason to return. 😉

    • It is an excellent reason to return.

  19. It is one of my favourite places in Rome. I went to see Nabucco at the open air opera theater on the Caracalla grounds one summer: a balmy warm evening, Romans were dressed up in their best summer opera outfits and the sounds of divine Verdi music floating over the ruins. Fantastic experience!

    • It would be a magical place to watch a performance.

  20. Loved your post Debra. Could you tell me what type of trees are in the photos?

    • The trees are pine trees, stunning aren’t they?


    • The first Three Tenors concert was held in Caracalla in 1990!

      • What a great place to hear the 3 Tenors.

  22. What a cool post Debra. Love the history. A friend visited earlier this year, pretty sure my soul city is Rome, cant wait to experience it for myself. 🙂

  23. […] Some of the road still exists and is used by vehicles. It is also possible to follow the Appia on foot for about 16 kilometres from its beginning near the Baths of Caracalla. […]

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