Mª Jesús Esteban Quiñoá
On the left bank of the River Miño we can find the remains of a place that used to be an important thermal building which made use of a healthy waters spring. These waters spring up at 48.5º C. At the same time, it made use of the cold water of the river. These thermal waters are still nowadays used with therapeutic and medicinal purposes at the Lugo Hotel Balneario.
Until the latest archaeological works were finished, these thermal baths were thought to be modest, with a provincial character and far away from the imperial models. Although much data has not yet been studied and analysed, we know that the building would be at least 2500 m2, leaving out the zone which could be on the southwest area. Parallel to the river, the thermal complex has a portico and a basilica on one end and four vaulted rooms surrounding a pool. Then, we would find a square and circular room with apses, which could be the laconium. Finally, in the backyard of the Hotel Balneario was an open patio surrounded by a portico and with a big pool in the middle. There, 14 altars devoted to the nymphs were found.
In the thermal complexes of the Roman times, there used to be a room for hot baths (cella caldaria or caldarium), another one for cold baths (cella frigidaria or frigidarium) and between these two a third one with warm water (cella tepidaria or tepidarium).
In the thermal baths of Lugo there was no need of a system to heat the water (hypocaustum and prafurnium), as they used the water from the river and the thermal spring. This didn’t happen, for instance, in the private thermal baths found in the city (Praza de San Domingos, Rúa dos Cregos, Ánxel Fole, Montevideo ...). We can suppose that there used to be other public baths in the city centre (possibly in Armaña Street), taking into account the fact that the public thermal baths are 800m from the city centre and there is a steep drop from the city to the river.
It is thought that these thermal baths by the river followed the same building structure as other thermal complexes, with two areas, one for the men and another one for the women. The main entrance led to the male baths, built around a ground, surrounded by porticoes, devoted to sport activities (gym).
The entrance to the thermal building itself was through a great hall placed next to the two changing rooms (apodycterium). That is the best-preserved building in the thermal complex. There, clothes could be left in little houses carved in the walls and guarded by a slave. From this point, the visitor could go to a circular room called laconium. The two biggest rooms were devoted to the warm and hot baths, and they were usually connected. Several pools or alvei used to be in each of these rooms.
The visitor, who used to pay a little amount of money depending on the sex, the age and the frequency of their visits (there were passes already), started in the apodycterium (changing room) and then went to the frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium.
Under the main stair of the present-day spa we can find the remains of another little room, which can be entered through a semicircular arch split by the support of the stair. At the end of this room, over a mantel, we can see a blind arch with remains of paint in a very poor condition of preservation, although we can notice a warrior with armour and a bishop with a staff. We can imagine that this area was the caldarium and was later transformed into a Christian chapel. The painting could date back to the 16th century.
The “uptake system” of the mineral medicinal waters also dates back to Roman times, but it was not possible to make an archaeological study, as the present-day spa’s founding is on top of it.
After the Roman times, when these thermal baths had possibly a great importance, there came a time of “silence” and almost neglect which lasted until 1816, when the thermal complex was expropriated by the local authorities. During this period, the baths were used in a very precarious way. There is some bibliographic reference from Licenciado Bartolomé Molina (1550), Ambrosio de Morales (1575), Alfonso Limón Montero (1679), O Crego Pallares e Gaioso (1700). The latter, in his work Argos Divina, describes the ruins of the spa in Lugo and, after dating it from the Roman times, asks for more attention and care for them, due to the healthy waters and the benefits they bring. Both previous and following references until the 19th century coincide in stressing the poor condition of the thermal baths.
In the 19th century there are various references which mention the use of the baths and their healing characteristics. In 1835 they were considered to have an “undeniable usefulness” by the Lugo authorities. In the 20th century there is a new decline in the use of thermal waters until 1978, when new investment and modifications succeeded in giving the spa in Lugo more importance.
- ARIAS VILA, Felipe/de ABEL VILELA, Adolfo (1975): Guía romana de Lugo y su provincia. Lugo
- ARIAS VILA, Felipe/ De VEGA RODRÍGUEZ, Antonio ( 1979) As termas romanas de Lugo Actas do I Congreso Peninsular de termalismo antigo. Madrid
- CARREÑO. Covadonga Baños privados y termas públicas en el Lugo romano. Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Serie II, H." Antigua, t. V, 1992, págs. 337-350
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- RODRÍGUEZ COLMENERO, A./ CARREÑO GASCÓN, C/ y otros. (1995) Urbs Romana. Los orígenes de la ciudad de Lugo. Excmo. Concello de Lugo.