domenica 8 luglio 2012


The Baths of Diocletian (Thermae Diocletiani) in Rome, dedicated in 306, were the largest and most sumptuous of the imperial baths. The baths were built between the years 298 AD and 306 AD. The project was originally commissioned by Maximian upon his return in Rome in 298 and was continued after his and Diocletian's abdication under Constantius, father of Constantine. Although many baths in and around Rome had the same elements, the Baths of Diocletian are unique by their size.

The baths occupy the high-ground on the northeast summit of the the Viminal. They served as a bath for the people residing in the Viminal, Quirinal and Esquiline quarters of the city. "The water was provided by the Aqua Marcia, an aqueduct that had long served the city of Rome since the early 2nd century. To properly supply the baths, the supply of water to the city was increased under the order of Diocletian. The baths may have also been supplied by the Aqua Antoniniana, which was originally positioned to supply Caracalla's in the early 3rd century." (da Wikipedia)


Following the typical plan of late-empire baths, those built for Diocletian featured three main buildings - the Frigidarium (swimming pool), the Tepidarium (heated area) and Calidarium (hot water pool) - surrounded by an outer wall, the course of which, in this case, is clearly reflected in today's street plan.


The frigidarium, or Cella frigidaria, consisted of a pool and a host of smaller baths connected to the main room. Water entering the room would come from a pipe or cistern and would exit through a drain within the pool. The water from the pool was thought to have been reused to flush latrines within the complex. The frigidarium was used mainly as a swimming pool or a cold-water bath, depending on the time. Normally, one would continue on to the frigidarium on to the frigidarium aftre using the hot-water baths or after exercising in the palestra.


From the frigidarium the bather who wished to go through the warm bath and sweating process entered the tepidarium. It did not contain water, but was merely heated with warm air of an agreeable temperature, in order to prepare the body for the great heat of the vapour and warm baths, and, upon returning, to prevent a too sudden transition up to the open air. It was heated by an underfloor heating system.  The specialty of a tepidarium is the pleasant feeling of constant radiant heat which directly affects the human body from the walls and floor.


The purpose of the calidarium was that of the main bath center within the baths. The room was used for a hot-water bath or for the saunas or steam rooms. The calidarium, or Cella caldaria, was rectangular in shape with many octagonal rooms near it.

The three central structures would have been immersed in a garden with fountains and arcades, flanked by a symmetrical arrangement of changing rooms, gymnasia and libraries.

The Tepidarium has survived due to the Michelangelo's brilliant late Sixteenth century architectural design for restoring and converting the ruins.
Almost all trace of Calidarium has disappeared however, while only a few elements of the facade of the Natatio can be identified and this with some difficulty.

The prominence of the Frigidarium and its conjoining rooms showed the increase in popularity the cold baths had during the early 4th century compared to hot baths.

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Baths of Diocletian suffered a period of slow, but inexorable decline, as did many other classical buildings, both public and private. The history of the Baths, howevwe, is distinct from that of other structures, because they were not converted or even put to partial re-use, since they were not in the center of medieval Rome.


1. Calidarium
2. Tepidarium
6. Main Entrance

                                 10                                                                                               11
                                      8                                                                                    9

In the following explanations reference is made to this map.

The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs

In 1561, Pope Pius IV commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti, who at the time was working at Saint Peter's, to convert the central hall of the frigidarium into a church.  Unlike his eighteenth-century successor, Vanvitelli, Michelangelo treated the classical ruins with the greatest respect.

The Basilika of Santa Maria degli Angeli was Michelangelo's last architectural work, finished when he was 86. In his design of Santa Maria degli Angeli, he was able to draw together the threads of a lifetime of extraordinary creativity to create an entirely new artistic syntax: a language of the unfinished, the creation of an overwhelming powerful sensation by incorporating the extant ruins into the facades, and  of a counter-point effect by contrasting the luminosity of the interior spaces with the shadows outside.

The genious of the design lay as much in its simplicity as in its brillance. The gigantic scale of the classic ruins provided Michelangelo with ready-made bones for his sacred building.  The extant hall of the Basilica lent itself to being read as a great canopy, a form in itself laden with symbolic and religious significance: and herein lies the clue to Michelangelo's achievement. He created a Greek cross design leaving unchanged several right-angle frames, the vestibule ( former nymphaeum passage towards the calidarium) and the chancel.

Making the minimum number of alterations, he used the vast central part of the frigidarium as the nave, creating an entrance at the eastern end in what is now one of the halls of the museum. Though it is enormous, the area used for the church occupies only about half of the frigidarium building, which formed the central block of the Terme. The frigidarium, or cold room, measures 300 by 88 feet, and is 92 feet high.

The best way to appreciate nowadays the beuty and significance of Michelangelo' project is to study the great vault to have survived in its naked quintessential clarity and to have remained untouched by subsequent additions.

The three transept soaring vaults of the Basilica provide one of the few glimpses of the original splendour of Roman building.

The present entrance is the only part that remains to us of Michelangelo's project. The Renaissance genius had in fact designed two other entrances over and above the one constructed in the apse of what had been the Calidarium.

An entrance gave on to the current via delle Terme and the other on to via Cernaia. Michelangelo's   intention in designing a multiple entrance was to echo the three survivig "natural facades" of the ruins of Diocletian's massive Baths and to create a striking link between the Basilica and its historical site.

Previous entrance in via Cernaia

Previous entrance in via delle Terme di Diocleziano,

Museo Nazionale Romano

Il giardino dei Cinquecento (lato est)

Cisterna (lato est)

External of the main hall of the Museo Nazionale Romano.

Dal lato opposto all'entrata


Dall'altro lato di via Cernaia

The "octagonal aula" is now a part of National Roman Museum

The "Aula Ottagona"

L'aula ottagona era l'ambiente sull'angolo sud-ovest del complesso centrale delle Terme di Diocleziano. Nel 1609 Paolo V estende i granai fino a comprendere anche l'aula ottagona: nel sotterraneo i grossi pilastri che sostengono il piano del pavimento annuale fanno parte di questa ristrutturazione La pianta dell'aula è quadrata all'esterno, ottagona all'interno, e il raccordo è realizzato con quattro grandi nicchie semicircolari negli angoli. La copertura è a cupola ad ombrello, composta da otto elementi che si incontrano in alto in un anello con foro ottagonale. Il piano del pavimento attuale non corrisponde attuale non corrisponde a quello antico, che si trovava a livello più basso.
La costruzione in pietra cementizia e laterizio, era rivestita di lastre marmoree ed era decorata nelle parti alte con stucchi. Di questo non rimane niente. L'assenza di sistemi di riscaldamento, l'estesa luminosità         


The original perimeter wall of Diocletian's Baths now runs beneath four readily identifiable buildings such that we can gain some idea of the vastness of the enclosure. These are the Koch complex in Piazza della Repubblica which owe their shape to the classical exedra of the wall, the lateral Rotonda in Piazza dei Cinquecento and the two flanking circular structures that stand one in Piazza San Bernardo and the other in via del Viminale.

The church of San Bernardo alle Terme ( 8 ) recycled one of the only two circular towers in the rectangular boundary of the baths, flanking its southwestern wall.

The other circular tower ( 9 ) is located in Via del Viminale.

Between these two towers, one large exedra used to exist as part of the same wall. Today, only its outline may be appreciated in the layout of Piazza della Repubblica. Koch's design of Piazza della Repubblica reproduced the exedra ( 7 ).

Piazza della Repubblica reproduced the exedra

Sight from via Nazionale

Plastic reconstruction

Reconstruction: sight from tepidarium seen from frigidarium (da "Arte e architettura romana" - Mortimer Wheeler - Rusconi Arte)  

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