Like all self-respecting Roman cities, Odessos (modern-day Varna) was graced with the very best public bathing facilities, and the vast thermae here were a visible, powerful symbol of the fruits – and engineering skill – of Roman civilisation. Far from being simply a place to wash up, the baths were an integral part of civic life. They were a place to socialise, make business deals, eavesdrop on the latest gossip, snooze, read and eat. All classes were allowed, though men and women were admitted at different times.
Larger baths, such as the one in Odessos, had a palaestra, or exercise hall, where wrestling and other athletic activities took place, often accompanied by music. Bathers would then rub themselves down with oil and sweat for a while in the sudatorium (a kind of sauna) before scraping it off with a strigil, examples of which are on show in the Archaeological Museum. A plunge in the hot water of the caldarium would follow. They would then move on to the more bearable temperature of the tepidarium, finishing off with a dip in the icy frigidarium. The remains of these shallow pools can still be seen in Varna’s Thermae, as well as the furnace and hypocaust system that provided underfloor heating and hot water.