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The Imperial Roman Baths in Trier and Why They Were Never Opened

Photo by Flickr User Freimut | Kaiserthermen in Trier | (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The oldest town in Germany, Trier, was founded by the Romans. Trier has a total of three Roman baths, but the most impressive bath complex within the city are the Imperial Roman Baths or Kaiserthermen in German.

First there was Emperor Marcus Maximianus
This large bath and spa complex was authorized by Emperor Marcus Aurelius Velerius Maximianus and construction began around 300 AD. The building site measures a giant 250 by 145 meters (820 by 476 feet), created to show off the wealth and craftsmanship of the Roman Empire. The water supply was to be routed from the nearby Petrisberg over 2 aqueducts and, once finished, the complex would have been the biggest bath north of the Alps with a subterranean tunnel system for water supply and heating as well as tunnels for maintenance work.

Then there was Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great took over as successor of Emperor Maximianus in 306 AD and started to expand Trier by adding gates and military towers. During his reign in Trier, Constantine the Great also expanded his portion of the Roman Empire and stopped the persecution of the Christians in his empire. Unfortunately, this is where history takes an unexpected turn for the baths of Trier.

Emperor Constantine the Great left Trier in 316 AD to pursue different political goals. He eventually took residence in Constantinople - a city named in his honor, and Trier’s Imperial Roman Baths remained unfinished for about 50 years.

Finally, Flavius Gratinianus
Under reign of Flavius Gratinianus from 375 AD to 383 AD, the baths could have been finished, but Flavius had different plans. Instead of finishing the Imperial Roman Baths, he wanted to use the stone and concrete to build a barracks for the imperial troops. The subterranean tunnels were mostly filled in, and with a complex of this large scale, it could house up to 1000 soldiers including all their horses inside its walls.

During the Middle Ages the Imperial Roman Baths/Army Barracks were converted into Alderburg castle and later became part of the city fortification wall around 1120 AD. Today you can still explore the huge labyrinth of underground passageways, even though most of them are not open to the public or still filled up with concrete.

Fuel for the Imagination
The Imperial Roman Baths are still worth a visit just to see the complexity and size of what it meant to build a public bath for about 80,000 people living in Trier at the time. Most citizens used a Roman bath almost every day, and they must have had an army of bath employees to take care of the population. The fires under the water had to be kept burning in order to keep the water warm, while upstairs a crew of massage therapists and cleaners took care of the well-being of guests.

The Imperial Roman Baths are open every day from 9am until the late afternoon/early evening. For exact opening hours, check their website.

Modell der Kaiserthermen Trier (Blick von Nord-Osten) Quelle: Modell im Rheinischen Landesmuseum Trier, Foto: Stefan Kühn (GNU-Lizenz)

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