Baths of Caracalla

3d model and reconstruction

Baths of Caracalla

Even though devoid of their splendid decoration, the remains of the natatio in the Baths of Caracalla are among the greatest and most suggestive from ancient Rome. The very high walls and cement vaults to which slabs of colored marble, columns, statues and stuccos were applies, are evidence of the high technical expertise and advanced level in public building achieved at the time.

Renaissance artists, including Palladio, has the possibility of depicting in their drawings the architectonic details of this hall, still partially preserved at the time. The  Baths of Caracalla, as a matter of fact, were completely stripped in the years 1545-1547, by Pope Paul III in order to build Palazzo Farnese. One of the eight gigantic granite columns along the long wall of the natatio is in Florence today, at Piazza S. Trinita, where it was transported by order of Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1563.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the main excavations in the central body of the baths took place. The first and probably most famous graphic reconstruction in color of the baths is dated 1867, made by the French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. A result of the author’s restoration theories, this reconstruction, apart from its undeniable academic value for architecture, still definitely reminds us of the taste typical of the time.

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Short history of

Baths of Caracalla

These baths, whose official name was Thermae Antoninianae, were located southwest of the Appian Way, just outside the Capena Gate.

Their construction was long and laborious; initiated by Caracalla in 212 AD, and inaugurated by him in 216 AD, they were completed by Elagabalus and by Alexander Severus, who were also responsible for the outside enclosure. They also underwent restorations under the emperors Aurelian, Diocletian, and Theodoric.

The outside enclosure, on the northwest side, presented a grand porticoed entrance to the baths; on the inside the enclosure had two large exedrae on the sides, placed one in front of the other, with an apsed room. Behind them was another exedra, with foreshortened ends and a grandstand, meant to hide the large cisterns holding the water for the baths.

The main body of the structure had four entrances to the natatio (pool). The arrangement of the rooms was virtually the same as that already used for the Baths of Trajan, with a symmetrical arrangement, on the two sides of the central axis, of environments with the same functions and plan. One passed, therefore, through the apodyterium (Dressing room), the gymnasium, the laconicum (a kind of steam bath), the calidarium (hot room), with a central plan covered by a dome and with a large circular tub in the middle, the tepidarium (warm room). From here one entered the great center hall, the basilica, covered by large cross vaults, before returning finally to the natatio. After the calidarium the rooms were no longer arranged in pairs but in single file.