Founded by the Romans as a thermal spa, Bath became an important centre of the wool industry in the Middle Ages. In the 18th century, under George III, it developed into an elegant town with neoclassical Palladian buildings, which blend harmoniously with the Roman baths.
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Statement of Significance
The Roman remains, especially the Temple of Sulis Minerva and the baths complex (based around the hot springs at the heart of the Roman city of Aquae Sulis, which have remained at the heart of the City’s development ever since) are amongst the most famous and important Roman remains north of the Alps, and marked the beginning of Bath’s history as a spa town.
The Georgian city reflects the ambitions of John Wood Senior, Ralph Allen and Richard ‘Beau’ Nash to make Bath into one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with architecture and landscape combined harmoniously for the enjoyment of the spa town’s cure takers.
The Neo-classical style of the public buildings (such as the Assembly Rooms and the Pump Room) harmonises with the grandiose proportions of the monumental ensembles (such as Queen Square, Circus, and Royal Crescent) and collectively reflects the ambitions, particularly social, of the spa city in the 18th century.
The individual Georgian buildings reflect the profound influence of Palladio, and their collective scale, style, and the organisation of the spaces between buildings epitomises the success of architects such as the John Woods, Robert Adam, Thomas Baldwin, and John Palmer in transposing Palladio’s ideas to the scale of a complete city, situated in a hollow in the hills and built to a Picturesque landscape aestheticism creating a strong garden city feel, more akin to the 19th century garden cities than the 17th century Renaissance cities.
Criterion (i): Bath’s grandiose Neo-classical Palladian crescents, terraces, and squares spread out over the surrounding hills and set in its green valley are a demonstration par excellence of the integration of architecture, urban design, and landscape setting, and the deliberate creation of a beautiful city. Not only are individual buildings such as the Assembly Rooms and Pump Room of great distinction, they are part of the larger overall city landscape that evolved over a century in a harmonious and logical way, drawing together public and private buildings and spaces in a way that reflects the precepts of Palladio tempered with picturesque aestheticism.
Bath’s quality of architecture and urban design, its visual homogeneity and its beauty is largely testament to the skill and creativity of the architects and visionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries who applied and developed Palladianism in response to the specific opportunities offered by the spa town and its physical environment and natural resources (in particular the hot springs and the local Bath Oolitic limestone). Three men – architect John Wood Senior, entrepreneur and quarry owner Ralph Allen, and celebrated social shaper and Master of Ceremonies Richard “Beau” Nash – together provided the impetus to start this social, economic, and physical rebirth, resulting in a city that played host to the social, political, and cultural leaders of the day. That the architects who followed were working over the course of a century, with no master plan or single patron, did not prevent them from contriving to relate each individual development to those around it and to the wider landscape, creating a city that is harmonious and logical, in concord with its natural environment and extremely beautiful.
Criterion (ii): Bath exemplifies the 18th century move away from the inward-looking uniform street layouts of Renaissance cities that dominated through the 15th–17th centuries, towards the idea of planting buildings and cities in the landscape to achieve picturesque views and forms, which could be seen echoed around Europe, particularly in the 19th century. This unifying of nature and city, seen throughout Bath, is perhaps best demonstrated in the Royal Crescent (John Wood Younger) and Lansdown Crescent (John Palmer). Bath’s urban and landscape spaces are created by the buildings that enclose them, providing a series of interlinked spaces that flow organically, and that visually (and at times physically) draw in the green surrounding countryside to create a distinctive garden city feel, looking forward to the principles of garden cities developed by the 19th century town planners.
Criterion (iv): Bath reflects two great eras in human history: Roman and Georgian. The Roman Baths and temple complex, together with the remains of the city of Aquae Sulis that grew up around them, make a significant contribution to the understanding and appreciation of Roman social and religious society. The 18th century redevelopment is a unique combination of outstanding urban architecture, spatial arrangement, and social history. Bath exemplifies the main themes of the 18th century neoclassical city; the monumentalisation of ordinary houses, the integration of landscape and town, and the creation and interlinking of urban spaces, designed and developed as a response to the growing popularity of Bath as a society and spa destination and to provide an appropriate picturesque setting and facilities for the cure takers and social visitors. Although Bath gained greatest importance in Roman and Georgian times, the city nevertheless reflects continuous development over two millennia with the spectacular medieval Abbey Church sat beside the Roman temple and baths, in the heart of the 18th century and modern city.
After the conquest of Britain in AD 43 by the Romans many of the hot baths constructed in Europe have become major historic cities. Aquae Sulis, constructed in 60-70, continues, under the name of Bath, to be a renowned spa. Its apogee was in the 18th century. The Romans built a temple there dedicated to Sulis, a local divinity whom they associated with Minerva, as well as a hot bath and including two pools, five baths (four Roman and one medieval) and all the standard equipment of tepidaria, frigidaria and hypocausts. These hot baths and its source, which yields over 1,200,000 litres of water daily at more than 46 °C, were built between the 1st and 4th centuries, and their gradual rediscovery began in 1755.
After the fall of the old Roman city, medieval Bath became a major wool-producing centre. The religious influence of the city was considerable from 1091 to 1206. A cathedral was built during the episcopacy of Robert de Lewes; it was demolished shortly after 1495 and was later reconstructed as an abbey church in the Perpendicular style. The abbey church was still uncompleted at the time of the Reformation and the work was finished with great difficulty shortly before it was dedicated in 1609.
In the 18th century, the medium-sized city of Avon experienced an extraordinary rebirth under the impetus of three exceptional figures: John Wood, Ralph Allen and Richard 'Beau' Nash, who had the ambition to make it one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, an ideal site where architecture and the landscape would combine harmoniously for the delight of the enlightened cure-takers.
The neoclassical style of the grand public buildings (the Rooms, the Pump Room, the Circus, and especially, Royal Crescent) reflected the ambitions of Bath under the reign of George III. Whether of disproportionate or reduced dimensions, the neoclassical constructions of Bath all express the great influence of Palladio, whom Wood, Allen and Adam considered to be their master. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC