Today was the first day of the Open Palace Programme. This morning we embarked on a guided tour by the Mayor of Bath’s Honorary Guide, Phil, around the city centre. The theme of the tour was the historical and architectural evolution of the city. Lasting just over 2 hours, it provided a great introduction to the city and covered a significant amount of information.
After a quick stop at Bath Abbey we continued on to talk about the city of Bath as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What is particularly interesting is that the entire city is inscribed on the list – not just the Abbey or the Roman Baths. There are around thirty-three reasons why the city was listed and I was very glad our guide provided a summary. Firstly, it has been listed due to the Roman and 18th century remains. As I discovered in the Roman Baths yesterday, there is quite a significant amount of Victorian architecture, even within the main bath itself, that has been wonderfully conserved. Secondly, Bath was one of the first cities in the world designed to look beautiful. Lastly, the city was designed to be a centre of social activity, a site of leisure especially in the 18th century. Click on this link for more details: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/428!
Personally, I found the most interesting part of Bath’s history was when it was foremost a health/medical centre. Those suffering specifically from Devonshire or Somerset palsy could spend six months in Bath to relieve their symptoms. Unlike other areas of the United Kingdom that preferred beer to water (more clean), Bath preferred cider. To make cider taste sweet, it was processed with lead which does apparently act as a sweetener. Drinking a lead-infused beverage is obviously not very good for your health and could lead to a variety of illnesses. By spending six months drinking copious amounts of water and bathing in hot water for hours each day, you could leave the city feeling a lot better than when you arrived. Throughout the tour, the significance of the water and hot springs was highlighted at each stop revealing it is literally the lifeblood of the city.
There were two other highlights: the Royal Crescent and the Circus. The former was designed and built by John Woods the younger and represents how it was fashionable in the 18th century to feel attached to the countryside. No matter which building you were living in, you were guaranteed a view of the fields outside. Today, it is more like a view of the other buildings in Bath. The Circus, on the other hand, was built to reflect a new awareness of the ancient Roman presence in the city. Three layers of Corinthian, Ionic and Doric columns mimic those on the Colosseum.
I have mentioned before I enjoy guided tours because you can access more information if necessary by asking the guide etc. It’s also a great way to explore a city effortlessly. I like tours that focus more on the stories of a city and its personalities. Phil did a great job of adding that information at almost every stop ensuring the tour contained social, as well as architectural, history.
There are so many stories that can be drawn from the tangible heritage in this city. We will be learning more about the Bath Preservation Trust tomorrow on our visit to Beckford’s Tower and Museum. Here, we will gain some hands on experience at conservation and site analysis. It was a lovely way to spend our first morning of the tour and I am now more excited than ever to hear and learn more!