The Romans, believed quite rightly, that keeping themselves clean helped to keep them healthy. Thus, most Roman cities had huge public baths. These public baths were also a favourite place to relax and meet friends. Visitors to the baths cleansed themselves by having a steam bath and rubbing themselves with olive oil. They could also enjoy a swim, have a massage, read, eat a snack or take part in sports in a yard called the palaestra. The baths were part of Roman life. They were mainly for the men, but women were allowed to use them at special times. Mixed bathing was not allowed.
The following are the names and the description of some of the rooms found in Roman baths:
Apodyterium: this was the changing room where visitors used to leave their clothes.
Tepidarium: this was next step. This was the warm room where bathers could relax and acclimatise their body to the heat. In this room they would be rubbed with oil and scraped clean with a metal tool called the strigil.
Caldarium: this was the hot room. Temperatures in this room could reach 60°C, therefore the Romans would build up quite a sweat in here!!
Frigidarium: this was the last step and the Romans would dip into this cold pool to cool off.
The Roman Baths at Ghajn Tuffieha, Malta
Remains of roman baths have also been discovered in Malta, an example being the ones at Ghajn Tuffieha at a short distance uphill on the road leading from Ghajn Tuffieha to Mgarr, not far from our school! These baths date to between the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century AD. These baths were once attached to a country villa. However, little is left of the villa proper apart from these baths. As in the case of the Roman House at Rabat, this villa gives an idea of the leisurely life enjoyed by the Romans in Malta. The site was excavated in 1929.
The complex consists of five rooms along a corridor paved with earthenware tiles. Nearby are the ruins of a piscina, or pool. On the other side of the corridor is the tepidarium with a beautiful coloured mosaic pavement. The frigidarium is at a lower level. Unfortunately, its mosaic floor is worn out.
At a little distance, there is the caldarium. Hot air from a furnace circulated beneath the floor to heat this room, which probably served as meeting place for the guests in the villa. This heating method was the Roman version of modern central heating!
It appears that this country house had all the necessary comforts known in those days. It also appears that these baths were not public ones, but rather intended to be used by the residents of the nearby villa and their guests.
Sadly, at the moment these Roman Baths are not open to the public and not in a good state. In the 1960's several rooms were built to protect the mosaic floors. However, these rooms have exerted pressure on the mosaics creating damage. In 2004, Heritage Malta, which is the local body that takes care of archaeological and historic sites, outlined a proposal for the preservation of this important Roman site.