Jumping in the life of the ancient Roman people at the Terme di Diocleziano
Diocleziano thermal baths are the biggest ever built in Rome and in the whole Empire, before Massimiano inaugurated their works in 298. Massimiano was the Augustus of the West Roman Empire, named by Diocleziano himself. They became available for the public about 8 years later, in 306, a few months after both the princes abdication. The Terme di Diocleziano were situated in the area of Via XX Settembre, Via Volturno, Piazza dei Cinquecento, and Piazza della Repubblica, where several remains of the original building were found. Today, the thermal baths are part of the Museo Nazionale Romano, representing one of the most visited sites of the State, with more than 250 thousand visitors per year. So if you love history and archaeology, you can't miss a visit there.
The story of the Terme di Diocleziano
The thermal baths were built for the people living in Viminale, Quirinale, and Esquilino districts. Before starting the works, an entire district was demolished: there were several private buildings the emperor had bought to redesign the area and its viability. The dedicatory inscription has been recreated and it is stored in the entrance hall of the Museo delle Terme. It refers to the orders Massimiano and Diocleziano gave to dedicate this great work to the Roman citizens. Thanks today inscription we know when the complex was built: in 298, Massimiano had just come back from Africa, and he remained in charge with Diocleziano until May the 1st, in 305, when both of them decided to abdicate. The thermal baths were inaugurated the following year, in 306. As we have already said, several buildings were demolished, lately discovered during the works to build the underground station at Piazza della Repubblica.
The thermal baths were made of bricks with stamps of Diocleziano age, even if the habit had disappeared. Probably, the built of this complex introduced the use of stamps again. Despite of the several attacks by the Goths and the Vandals, the thermal baths went on working until 537, when the king of the Goths - Vitige - blocked the Roman aqueducts supplying them. The architects charged to design them, decided to make them more similar to Terme di Caracalla, inspired to Train’s ones. However, despite of their shape, they were the double of the other thermal complexes of the past. After the fall of the Roman Empire, they had the same destiny of many other Roman monuments: they became a store where to take prestigious materials for other buildings. Meanwhile, the various rooms were occupied and used for many different uses, including animal fostering. Between 1586 and 1590 Pope Sisto V ordered a demolition by explosion, destroying several remains of the "calidarium". The intervention took place before the built of his residence on the Esquilino hill, causing the loss of more than 100000 cubic metres of materials and many other areas were affected by the destruction to create the streets built during the following centuries. Just at the beginning of the 20th century, some restorations started to recvever the remains. Despite of the demolitions after the fall of the Empire, the Terme di Diocleziano has always been fascinating and powerful without competitors, able to inspire several artists, especially the ones in the 15th and 16th century, such as Palladio, who actually drew them.
A description of the complex
The thermal baths today are part of the Museo Nazionale Romano, made of four sites, together with Palazzo Altemps, Palazzo Massimo, and Crypta Balbi. Part of the complex is now occupied by the epigraphic museum, where several texts from the 8th century BC and the 4th century A.D. are stored. The original building was made of rooms where you could find the "calidarium", "frigidarium", and the "tepidarium", but also a big central room - the "natatio" - with an open swimming pool surrounded by the other rooms. Today, the area is occupied by the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, built in 1561, when Pio IV decided to transform the building into a church, entrusting the project to Michelangelo. The baths were transformed into a museum only in 1889, when numerous archaeological collections from the excavations of the capital and other parts of Lazio were moved there. Inside the cloister built by Michelangelo more than 400 sculptures of all kinds are exhibited, such as Roman statues, sarcophagi, inscriptions and architectural materials.
The galleries around there are dedicated to the Pre-historical section, where you can find several remains of the Latin people and the Lazio culture, from the bronze and iron ages. In the epigraphic section, you can see the evolution of the Latin language: some famous texts have been used, such as the "Cippo del Foro", the army and the associations inscriptions, that calcareous crown of Palestrina, and several ancient documents describe the costumes of the Roman society. Inside the baths there is a very interesting multimedia area, where some sites and monuments of Via Flaminia, such as Livia's residence at Prima Porta, have been recreated. In the octagonal room, there are some works found in the ancient thermal baths, such as the golden bronze statue from the 2nd century BC - related to the so-called Hellenic prince -, the Sitting boxer from the first century before Christ, and the feminist Aphrodite of Cirene, a copy of the original one by Prassitele.
Do you want to stay in Rome?
For this location we recommend Hotel Ariston, the ideal starting point to discover Rome!