The thermal baths of the Rotunda are part of the many sites of the archaeological heritage of Catania. They are located between via Mecca and via della Rotonda, almost hidden from the inattentive eye. In reality, if you continue, entering the alleys that from the Greek-Roman theatre go up to the hill of Montevergine and the Benedictine Monastery, you will find this little jewel. The baths date back to between the 1st and 2nd centuries. A.D. and they had the typical system consisting of rooms with swimming pools at different temperatures (caldarium, tepidarium, frigidarium). The baths are now part of the city’s Greco-Roman Archaeological Park.
Structure, uses and reuses
It is a circular building, enclosed in a quadrilateral through a series of arches and marble basins arranged inside large niches. Under the pavement layer, of recent age, there are ancient buildings that have been dated to different eras.
It was precisely in the Imperial Roman age that the building took on a circular plan, following what was the typical structure of Roman thermal baths, in which the caldarium, the hot water pool, was often the main room. During the late Roman period, other alterations should be traced back. With the end of the Roman Empire, the baths were transformed into a Christian church with the name of Santa Maria della Rotonda. This would be evidenced by the presence of two frescoes with depictions of St. Gregory the Wonderworker, and St. Leo the Wonderworker, as well as images related to the Marian cult and the evangelists. Furthermore, with the Byzantine Empire, the levels of trampling were modified. Other changes then date back to the Middle Ages, especially in the 12th century, after the terrible earthquake that hit Catania in 1169. Over the centuries, the structure has undergone many changes. The last alterations would date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, in which the most recent arrangement of the structure was prepared. But the modern age brings with it numerous events including the bombings of the Second World War, in which the beautiful battlements of the southern elevation of the church disappear forever.
The name “Rotonda” which gave its name to the street, near which this archaeological asset lies, would derive precisely from the structure of the thermal plant. Indeed, the main building is surmounted by a large round dome which is surrounded by buttresses. This type of roofing was also placed on a building with a square perimeter, from which the circular hall was created.
In the area to the west of the large apsidal hall, where the frigidarium (cold water pool) was installed in Roman times, there is a floor of marble slabs, on which various tombs from the Middle Ages have been found. Some of these were made by destroying the floor itself.
Over time, the Rotonda baths and, in general, this whole area of Montevergine hill have been subjected to numerous excavations. During the archaeological activities of 2015, the view of the dome in the northern area was cleared and a large castellum aquae was brought to light, which was connected to a branch of the Roman aqueduct of Catania and redistributed the water to the water network of the city. This plant, towards the end of the 6th century AD, was transformed into a building serving the church.
INFO AND BOOKINGS:
–Regional Museum of Catania: tel. 0957150508, fax 095 311004
Etna ‘Ngeniousa: tel. 338 1441760
Facebook: Terme della Rotonda – Catania
Greek-Roman Archaeological Park of Catania
Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 266 – 95124 – Catania
tel. 095 7150508 – fax 095 311004