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Rome

The Baths of Caracalla

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    Completed by the Emperor Caracalla in AD 217, the baths functioned for about 300 years, until the plumbing was destroyed by invading Goths. Over 1,600 bathers at a time could enjoy the facilities. As well as the baths, there were spaces for exercise, libraries, art galleries and gardens. Most of the rich marble decorations of the baths were removed by the Farnese family in the 16th century to adorn the interior of Palazzo Farnese. Until recently, open-air operas were staged here – the vocal exertions of the performers are now thought to pose a threat to the structure of the ancient buildings.

    While Berlioz was in Rome, Mendelssohn also visited the city. The two men met there for first time and would spend some time together, discussing music and literature and sightseeing. They visited the Baths of Caracalla together, as Berlioz relates in his Memoirs:

One evening we were exploring together the Baths of Caracalla, debating the question of merit and demerit in human actions and their reward in this life. As I answered with I know not what enormity the thoroughly religious and orthodox view he was propounding, his foot slipped, and there he tumbled down the ruins of some very steep steps, suffering many bruises and scratches on the way.

 « — You must admire divine justice, I said while helping him to his feet, I blaspheme, and you fall. »

This impious statement, accompanied with a great burst of laughter, was apparently too much for him, and henceforward all religious topics were strictly avoided.

The Baths of Caracalla

Unless otherwise stated, the modern photographs reproduced on this page were taken by Michel Austin in May 2007; other pictures have been scanned from engravings and other documents in our own collection. © Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.

1. The Baths of Caracalla in times past

The original copy of the following 3 engravings have been donated by us to the Hector Berlioz Museum and they hold the copyright for them.

The Baths of Caracalla in 1850

(Large view)

The above engraving was published in the Illustrated London News, 4 May 1850.

The Baths of Caracalla c. 1830

(Large view

The Baths of Caracalla c. 1830

(Large view)

2. The Baths of Caracalla in our time (2007)

(Large view)

(Large view)

(Large view)

A mosaic fragment

(Large view)

A steep flight of steps

(Large view)

Did Mendelssohn fall down these steps?

© (unless otherwise stated) Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin for all the pictures and information on this page.

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