The world’s most famous baths
28th February 2017
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.
We may all be grateful that bathing has increased in popularity since medieval times, but baths can be a hindrance if you have limited mobility. Walk-in baths are a perfect solution to those who struggle now, but in the past, there have been no such mobility aids. Yet baths have still remained central to several cultures and some have incredible histories.
Archimedes was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer and astronomer who lived between 287-212 BC. He is famous for many discoveries and the founding that most of modern mathematics is based on. He did, however, make one famous discovery in the bath, and in his delight coined the term Eureka! Archimedes had been presented with a particularly vexing problem, measuring the volume of an irregular shape. Had this been for anybody but Hiero of Syracuse (a Greek Sicilian tyrant) he may have told them it was impossible, but as it was a crown that he had to measure, he was desperately searching for an answer. Upon entering the bath one day, he noticed the water spilled over to make space for his body, and thus the idea of displacement was born. Allegedly it was at the point that he shouted “Eureka!” and ran through the streets of Syracuse naked.
From this discovery he was then able to tell whether the gold used in the crown was pure. Hiero of Syracuse feared he had been swindled by his goldsmith, who had not used pure gold as instructed, opting instead for a measure of silver. Though able to accurately measure weight, it was by knowing the volume that Archimedes was able to discern the density of the crown and thus the metal used.
The Emperor Nero reigned between 54 and 68 AD and was the youngest emperor of the time at a mere 17 years old. Though accounts differ about the scale of Nero’s tyranny, the atmosphere of the Roman senate was vicious and there are few who do not suspect Nero of at least several poisonings to remove rivals or interfering family members. Nero’s bathtub was a creation of decadence that defined the years he ruled. It was almost entirely made of Imperial Porphyry. The type of marble was highly prized at the time for several reasons, the first being the colour, as the purple of the marble closely resembled the colour of the purple stripe that marked senators’ robes. It was also extremely hard, only able to be shaped by the high quality steel that the Romans had, and thus was prized for both structure and sculpture. The final reason was its rarity. There was only one mine in Egypt that produced Imperial Porphyry which made it fantastically expensive.
At 25 foot in diameter, Nero’s bath was impressive. The highly polished surface and inviting smoothness speak of a charismatic emperor who was loved by the people despite his crimes. Yet when you consider the cost of the marble, the effort to haul it from Egypt, even the effort to fill it, it speaks more of ambition than cleansing. The bath is now housed in the Vatican Museums.
Louis XIV’s bath
Louis 14th was king from a young age but his personal reign began in 1661. There was a very negative attitude to bathing at the time. Many physicians believed that diseases were passed and caught by miasmas (unhealthy smells or vapours) and that by exposing the body to bathing they would be inviting pestilence and disease. The long-standing rumour that Louis 14th only took 3 baths is probably more due to slander than truth - especially as he had an entire wing dedicated to bathing and two personal tubs.
Having ordered a Turkish bath to the palace of Versailles, Louis 14th used it regularly. Since Louis 14th was somewhat fastidious about his hygiene, after his death there was little use for it and was removed to be used as a fountain afterwards.
Agatha Christie was a writer who led a life as interesting as her characters and was the unacknowledged queen of the mystery genre. While she took to writing thrillers simply because a sibling told her she couldn’t, she also enjoyed ruminating on different ideas in a Victorian bath. While the success of Agatha Christie’s novels are undeniable, with Mousetrap being the longest running West End play and the continued reruns of Miss Marple and Poirot, she stopped the practice of writing in the bath, claiming ‘They don’t make them like they used to’.
A figure of rock music and the lead singer from ‘The Doors’, Jim Morrison was 27 and living in Paris when he mysteriously died. Not only a singer and songwriter, Morrison was known for improvising spoken word poetry during concerts. He was revered for his wild attitude and according to Ray Mazarek, who co-founded The Doors, Morrison “embodied hippie counterculture rebellion”.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Jim Morrison are obscure at best. With many contradictory stories, the initial report claimed he had died due to heart failure. However, both band members and close friends alike describe the singer coughing up blood in the months leading up to his death. Pamela Courson was with him the night of his death and found him in the bath tub after what is now believed to have been an overdose.
Le Grand Queen
The world’s most expensive bath tub, Le Grand Queen fetched a staggering $1,740,000 USD at its sale in 2016. This tub is made of Caijou, a fossilised wood that is millenniums old and is as difficult to find as it is to transport and shape. Caijou is thought to have healing properties, but despite this quality, it still seems an excessive price for a bath!