A previously closed off stretch of the tunnels below Rome’s Terme di Caracalla, or Baths of Caracalla, is newly open to the public. Following a lengthy restoration costing roughly €350,000, visitors can now tour the extensive subterranean labyrinth in an itinerary that includes one of the surviving brick ovens used to power the baths in ancient times. “This is the technological heart of the Baths,” said the site’s director Marina Piranomonte. “Everyone should see it – not just academics with torches.”
At its peak, the Terme di Caracalla was the second largest Roman public baths in the city and it was the place where locals came to bathe, socialise, and unwind. Besides a boxing gym and swimming pool, the baths consisted of a central frigidarium (cold room), a double tepidarium pool (medium temperature room), and a caldarium (hot room). The latter maintained its sultry temperature thanks to an underground network of 50 brick ovens, endlessly stoked by slaves, that kept the waters of the caldarium hot around the clock.
A digital art exhibition by Fabrizio Plessi and set to music by composer Michael Nyman has also been installed in honour of the tunnels’ inauguration. Called Plessi at Caracalla: The Secret of Time, the show is composed of 12 video exhibits inspired by the baths and by Emperor Caracalla. It runs until mid-September 2019.
Rome mayor Virginia Raggi has recently announced additional plans to give the public access to other elusive and often off-bounds spots in the city like the baths’ tunnels: a pedestrian route leading from the Roman and Imperial Forums and encompassing the Colosseum, Circo Massimo, and the Mercati di Traiano, and the Baths of Caracalla themselves, is also in the works.
The Baths of Caracalla were built between 212 and 216 AD and remained in operation until the 6th century.
To find out more about visiting the tunnels, go to the Baths’ official page.