Few cities in the world are so blessed with attractions that you walk past remarkable sites barely even noticing them.
Yet somehow I’d managed to overlook Rome’s Baths of Diocletian, once the largest thermal bath complex in the world, despite my hotel being a mere 500 metres from them on my previous three visits to the Italian capital.
The Baths of Diocletian
Roman baths are scattered across Europe. But none can match the grandeur and history of the Baths of Diocletian, the largest and reputedly the most ornate thermal complex ever built in Italy. Constructed more than 1700 years ago for Roman Emperor Maximian, these baths were capable of hosting up to 3,000 people at a time.
It was one of a group of renowned Imperial baths built across the city during this period of the Roman Empire. These baths included Titus, Trajan, Domitian and Caracalla. The latter was completed in 216 and remained in use for more than 300 years, welcoming up to 1,600 bathers at a time. The ruins of Caracalla are the most extensive of any of these great monuments of history.
Even with its walls and ceilings now partly crumbled, the Diocletian is still a magnificent structure and one can imagine how extraordinary it must have been in its day.
Location, location, location
The Baths of Diocletian are located next to Roma Termini, the city’s teeming train station, around which Rome’s best-value hotels can be found. A good reason for these accommodation bargains is that the area directly around the station is among the dodgiest in the city, frequented by shady looking characters who stand in doorways whispering offers to passers-by.
This, too, is historic – ancient Rome was famous for nefarious activities and the vices of its men, particularly the wealthy.
What you need to know about visiting the baths of Diocletian
- The Baths of Diocletian are open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 7:30 pm, with tickets costing 7 Euros for adults and free for seniors (over 65 years) and youths (16 or younger).
- If you time it right, you can get one day of free entry to more than 25 museums, galleries and historical sites, which is available to everyone on the first Sunday of each month.
- After Diocletian, Rome’s best thermal baths to visit are Caracalla, just over 1km south of the Colesseum. You can even watch an opera performance in the grounds of Caracalla at certain times of year.