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Roman sacred building found in Baden

Excavations in the course of the renewal of the thermal water pipes on the Kurplatz in Baden, Switzerland, brought to light fragments of altars and an inscription in mid-September. These prove the existence of a Roman sacred building associated with the thermal springs. The ongoing excavation work will also uncover part of the open-air swimming pool.

Roman sacred building found in Baden
View of the Kurplatz in Baden with the excavation area in the middle of the square
[Credit: Canton Aargau]

Since spring 2020 Cantonal archeologists have been overseeing the pipeline work in the area of the spa gardens in Baden. The rediscovery of the historic Verena Baths ensured a broad public awareness. Meanwhile, further significant finds have come to light that improve the understanding of the ancient spa town of Aquae Helveticae.

Roman sacred building found in Baden
Overhead view of the excavation area
[Credit: Canton Aargau]

In recent weeks, the excavation team has uncovered a complex situation in a pipe trench that leads from the western end of the site towards the center of the square. In Roman times, a fundamental remodelling took place in the vicinity of the most important source, the "Grossen Heissen Steins" (Great Hot Stone). Within this context, large quantities of building rubble were levelled. Stone architectural fragments, including cornices and elements of altars, were repeatedly found in the rubble. These indicate that the demolition rubble of a cult building was deposited here.

Roman sacred building found in Baden
Fragment of a Roman consecration altar
[Credit: Canton Aargau]

Cult buildings in the immediate vicinity of a thermal spring are not unusual in Roman times, indeed they were commonplace. As numerous examples from Gaul, Germania or Italy prove, the use of thermal water for healing purposes was inseparably connected with ritual acts. Against this background, the votive statuettes and large quantities of Celtic and Roman coins recovered in the area of the "Great Hot Stone" in the 1960s, as well as possibly the Isis consecration inscription used as a secondary inscription in the church of St. Sebastian in Wettingen, can also be explained. The new finds now prove that there was a sacred building in which several altars stood and in which votive offerings were deposited. In addition, a fragment of a monumental inscription was found in the rubble, which was probably once walled into a building. The inscription is currently being analyzed by experts. It is possible that the inscription names the founder and the beneficiaries of the associated building.

Roman sacred building found in Baden
Fragment of a Roman monumental inscription
[Credit: Canton Aargau]

Following the excavation of the historic Verena Pool in May, the open-air pool is now to be selectively exposed in the following weeks. This will provide the opportunity to compare the construction and state of preservation of this bathing pool with the historical sources. These do not always accurately reflect the material findings, as the example of Verenabad showed. Only the archaeological investigations now confirm the Roman origin of the bathing pool, which was used as a public bath until 1840. Whether this was also the case with the open-air bath will be shown by the soundings of the Canton Aargau Archaeology Department.

Roman sacred building found in Baden
Roman altar with an inscription presumably naming the founder and the beneficiaries
[Credit: Canton Aargau]

The findings of the archaeological investigations will provide the basis for understanding the spa complex from Roman times to the present day and will help to better plan the future handling of the historical heritage at the Kurplatz. Thus, the protection and preservation for future generations can be ensured in accordance with the heritage law. Likewise, the results of the archaeological investigations form an important basis for the long-term promotion of the ancient seaside resort.

Source: Canton Aargau [trsl. TANN; October 22, 2020]

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