Tired of fighting the crowds at the Colosseum?
Don't miss the stunning Baths of Caracalla, one of the best ruins in Rome! And no crowds or lines!
This gargantuan set of ruins from the 3rd century C.E., known in Italian as the "Terme di Caracalla", showcases the skills the Romans had to make spectacular structures that have been able to stand the test of time.
How lucky are we that we can still visit them!
Here's everything you need to know about visiting the Caracalla Baths in Rome.
On this page, you'll find:
The Baths of Caracalla were an enormous bath complex in Ancient Rome.
They were the second-largest baths in the Roman Empire (second only to the Baths of Diocletian, also in Rome, but less well-preserved.)
They were available for Roman citizens to use for free.
It was not only a spa-like complex. There were libraries, a gym with changing rooms, gardens, and a temple to Mithra (a pagan religion.)
This was the place to come for exercise, leisure, and almost most important of all, social networking.
The baths were built during the reign of the Emperor Caracalla.
He was co-ruler along with his father Emperor Septimius Severus from 198 C.E. and later ruled with his brother Geta, emperor from 209.
Caracalla had his brother killed and became sole emperor of the Roman empire in 211.
He is credited with having the baths built, but it's probable the idea for them, and the design, began with his father, Septimius Severus.
Construction began in 211 and finished in 216 or 217.
The baths could hold up to 1,600 people at once, and around 6,000 - 8,000 people a day came to use them.
There were several spaces in the baths themselves - a caldarium (a small space, much like a steam bath), a tepidarium (a larger, tepid room), a frigidarium (a larger, cold room), and a natatioio (a massive open-air swimming area.
There was a massive underground space (which is now open to the public), where the water supply and temperatures were managed.
The Baths of Caracalla were used for several hundred years until 537 when the Ostragoths destroyed the aqueducts that supplied water to the city and to the baths.
Rome remained without a fresh water supply for nearly a thousand years.
In my opinion, this is one of the best sites you can visit in Rome.
This site is ideal for people of all ages.
It's relatively easy to see in about an hour if you just visit the main ruins, or in around 2-3 hours if you also visit the underground, use the virtual reality goggles tour, and explore the surrounding park. Other than the underground, it's all one one level, and I don't find it exhausting.
Kids will enjoy this site, especially the virtual reality goggles and the underground.
The underground is enormous, well-lit, and well-ventilated, so it's not claustrophobic.
This is an excellent site to visit for anyone who has been to Rome before and seen all the main sites, and for anyone who is passionate about Ancient Rome.
When you visit the Caracalla baths, you can simply walk right in, without a guide, and enjoy the spaces.
There are plenty of signs, both at the beginning, and throughout, to explain the history of the baths, and also the spaces you are seeing.
You will see the much of the structure of the Baths of Caracalla, including the enormous natatioio (swimming area), where the different spaces were, like the gym, changing rooms, caldarium and other rooms.
In the natatioio, you can spot a poolside game they used to play.
You will also see huge fragments of mosaics of themes like sea animals, nature, or Roman gods. Many of these came from the floor of the second level, which is gone now.
You can stroll around the expansive gardens and even just relax there.
And now, thanks to a long excavation, you can visit the underground, where all the technological stuff happened behind the scenes - where slaves stoked wood-burning fires to heat the bools, and where pumps pushed water up, among other things.
After the baths fell into disuse in 537 CE, they were abandoned and eventually looted and otherwise destroyed due to disuse and earthquakes.
Like many things from Ancient Rome, a lot of the materials used to build the baths in the first place were recycled to make other things during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Some of the marble and artwork was stolen and placed elsewhere.
What you won't see at the Baths of Caracalla are:
As I mentioned above, it can take no more than an hour to visit the baths, if you just visit the main site and walk around, without seeing the underground or other parts.
If you want to include the underground, which I highly recommend, give yourself at least 2 hours for everything.
If you also want to include the tour in 4-D with virtual reality goggles, make sure to allow at least 1.5 hours for that, plus another half hour at least for the underground, so again, 2-2.5 hours, 3 if you want to be very leisurely about it.
When you see the ruins, and realize the scale, you'll be astounded to think of what must have happened behind the scenes to keep this all running.
Now, thanks to a long restoration and excavation, you can visit the underground and at least get a sense of the enormity of the space.
It's estimated there were around 50 brick ovens in the underground.
There would have been slaves stoking fires constantly, keeping the caldarium hot 24 hours a day.
The huge tunnels underground contained around 2 miles of lead pipes, and a nearby aqueduct, made specifically to supply water for these baths, pumped about 20 gallons of water per second into tanks and pipes.
The underground space is easy to visit and not claustrophobic (it's enormous with mostly high ceilings.) It should take you around 20-30 minutes to visit, depending how long you want to spend enjoying the exhibits (temporary and permanent) in the space.
Once the summer opera season closes in early August, they take down the stage and theater.
This is another amazing experience I highly recommend.
The visits include a bit of a tour of the baths themselves, a bit of a visit through the new underground (see section above), and, the cherry on top, a visit to the Mithraeum, which you can only see on this tour.
Worshipers of Mithra met here and performed rites. Mithraism is an ancient religion which also existed when Christianity began to spread. It was seen as an alternative, but also as a rival to early Christianity.
By the end of the 4th century, Mithraism ceased to exist.
Tours are in Italian or English and last 75 minutes. They go Fridays and Sundays, about every 15 minutes between 8pm - 9:30pm.
You can book online at CoopCulture. You can also try to just show up on the evening you want to go, and see if they have tickets for sale on the spot. You will probably get one, since this visit is not nearly as famous as the night Colosseum visits. But if you want to be sure, and also pick the time you want, I suggest booking ahead.
Tickets are 20€, which is considerably more than during the day. But you will have a guided tour, and you will get a very special visit with almost nobody else around you. And you get the see the Mithraeum, which to me is alone worth the price.
Last entry is one hour before closing, although they start shooing you out a bit before that.
The underground closes one hour before closing time also.
The 4-D virtual reality tour takes 1.5 hours, and the last time available to rent this equipment and take the tour is 2.5 hours before closing.
On Mondays the site closes at 2 pm. Closing times for the rest of the week throughout the year are:
Normally standard daytime tickets cost 8€. If there is an exhibit, tickets may cost more.
Ticket prices are reduced for European citizens between 18-25 years of age, and cost 2€.
Everyone under 18 is entitled to free entry.
The site is one of the "Sunday at the Museum" sites that is free on the first Sunday of the month between October and March inclusive.
The site is also free on these dates in 2019:
You don't really need to book in advance. I have never once arrived to find a long line at the ticket counter. If you want to book in advance, you can visit CoopCulture, or buy your ticket here.
You can also get a 3-D Virtual Reality headset for an additional 7€. You can buy this on site, or in advance on CoopCulture.
You probably don't need to purchase the virtual reality headset in advance unless you are coming on a busy day like a weekend or a free day. You'll need to get this headset at least 2.5 hours prior to closing time.
In summer you can attend a music concert, a ballet, or an opera at the Caracalla Baths. Here's when and how:
On July 7, 1990, Spaniards Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and Italian Luciano Pavarotti gave their very first concert together, as "The Three Tenors."
It was held on the eve of the World Cup, which was in Rome that year.
And it was held at the Baths of Caracalla.
On that night, two traditions were born - the Three Tenors would go on to delight music and opera fans around the world for years to come.
And, the Baths of Caracalla began holding operas there every summer, with the baths creating a dramatic backdrop.
To see the schedule, and to purchase tickets, visit TicketOne.
The Baths of Caracalla are also a fantastic venue for music concerts.
I was fortunate to see James Taylor play here with Bonnie Raitt. Shows in recent years have included Neil Young, Björk, Ennio Morricone, and Elton John.
You can use the same link above to see concert schedules and purchase tickets on the authorized ticket vendor TicketOne.
Below is a map of the Baths of Caracalla, and other points of interest nearby, including the closest Metro stop (a 5-minute walk), and a few places to eat in the area.
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