These ancient baths are located in Catania (Piazza Mecca), in the archeological area of the town.
The "Rotonda" was part of a wider complex of thermal baths, called "Grandi Terme" by the Prince of Biscari Ignazio Paternò Castello (1719-1786), which were once located in the area that goes from Piazza Dante right next to the Roman Theatre.
The name "Rotonda", which means circular, dates back to the period when it was thought that the circular structure had been constructed before the squared walls, that enclose the first structure. However, resarches have shown that this common held theory was wrong, because it has been demostrated that, without the external walls, the Rotonda would have fallen.
Calling it "thermal baths" is limiting, since the thermal baths function of the structure has been functional for just a short period of time: from the I century AD to the VI century AD. In fact, in 584 the Rotonda started to be used as a church. It is also possible that the Rotonda was the first cathedral of Catania1.
It has been found that these Thermal baths go back to the I century AD, they went through a phase of enrichment in the III century AD and then were abandoned in the VI century AD. They consist of nine rooms that have not been fully identified yet: it is plausible that the wide central room, that has the shape of an apsis, was the frigidarium, whereas the calidarium was the place subsequently transformed into a church consacrated to the "Madonna Analepsis"2.
Even being public the thermal baths were quite luxurious, as we can see from the remaining fine marble and mosaic on the pavement.3
The thermal baths were constructed on a series of "ipocausti", that are gaps between two pavements, supported by small columns called "suspensurae"4, in which hot air passed in order to heat all the room. This system was also used in the walls, by using terracotta tubes.
One of the last examples of ogival arch in Catania gives access to the interiors of the Rotonda.
During the XII century the area around the Church became a necropolis5
- Photos and main text by Aurelio Cardella ti.ilacsit|alledracoilerua#| and Giovanni Perricone moc.liamg|innan.enocirrep#| (November 2016)
- Locate the item on this Google Map
- Maria Grazia Branciforti, Claudia Guastella, Le terme della Rotonda, Assessorato dei beni culturali della regione siciliana, Palermo 2008, pp. 223