Terme Achilliane

Catania, Italy

The 'Achillian' Baths are numbered amongst the principal public bathing establishments of Roman date which survive in Catania, alongside the Terme dell'Indirizzo and the Terme della Rotonda, and constitute a mysterious and highly suggestive place. They are located beneath the Piazza Duomo and may be reached through a narrow underground passage next to the principal façade of the Cathedral.

The name derives from a fragmentary Greek inscription on a slab of Carrara marble, found around the middle of the 18th century. The inscription, attributable to the middle of the 5th century AD, is currently on display in the Museo Civico of Castello Ursino in Catania.

The part of the building complex which can be visited today includes the main hall, know as “Hall of Piers”, off which opens a series of rooms, some of which are linked to it by a corridor along the south side. This, covered by a barrel-vault and about 18m long, leads to four rooms of uncertain purpose. The area has yielded numerous fragments of late Roman and mediaeval pottery, which demonstrate the continued use of the building.

 The meagre stratigraphic data obtained from the various excavation campaigns, together with the analysis of structural details, have made it possible to date the first bath building to the 2nd century AD; while a second building phase, observable in the east wall of the main hall, must belong to the mid-5th century AD. The latter must have constituted an elongated rectangle in the first phase, while it was probably re-shaped in the second phase, reducing its size.

Following refurbishments in late antiquity, the main hall is now more-or-less square in outline (11 m from north to south and 11.90 m from east to west). The vaulted ceiling of the hall, whose extraordinary figurative decoration can still be admired, was covered with stucco protraying cupids, vine scrolls and bunches of grapes. Along its own sides is a conduit 0.70 m wide, linked to the channel system found in the long corridor which flanks the hall on the south. The paving of the hall was a fine work in opus sectile, composed of re-used slabs, of which the impressions remain in the mortar bedding. In the centre of the hall is a basin, originally veneered with marble, in the centre of which would have stood a small column. During the first phase, the height of the piers would have appeared greater than it does now, for in fact the present paving dates from a complex remodelling of the building which involved its raising up. As one passes along the corridor, there is on the left a room which has yielded the only remains of the heating system (a hypocaust with piers composed of cylindrical bricks). In this same room have been found the remains of a staircase, indicating the existence of an upper floor to the bath complex, which must have occupied more than one level.

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Founded: 2nd century AD
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Italy

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