This Roman archaeological museum tells the story of Roman Heerlen and Roman South Limburg. The varied collection consists of Roman objects from and around Coriovallum: the Roman city that lies below Heerlen.
Masterpiece is the Roman bathhouse: the best preserved Roman (public) bathhouse in the Netherlands. This bathhouse, measuring 500 meters of Roman wall work and some 2500 m2 of floor space, has been very well preserved. But not only that: it is also the oldest stone building in the Netherlands.
“A jewel in the crown of Dutch museums”
“A masterpiece of a museum”
“Fascinating how they managed to distill the big picture from a pile of stones and shards”
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The bathhouse was built between AD 63 and 73. That makes the bathhouse in Heerlen the oldest stone building in the Netherlands. This discovery was made as a result of thorough scientific research by a team of scientists from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Great Britain. The research took place over a period of three years.
The news received a lot of media attention: the makers of both the NOS and Jeugdjournaal came by and devoted a news item to it. Recently, also National Geographic took a look at the Thermenmuseum. Historian Bart Gielen in the History of the Roman Empire.
The public bathhouse on the current Coriovallumstraat was discovered just before the Second World War. A grand discovery that underlined how large and prosperous Coriovallum had been in Roman times. The bathhouse was dug up during the war and provisionally covered with straw and silver sand. Only thirty years later, the current museum about the bathhouse was built to make the site available to the public. In 1977, the Thermenmuseum opened its doors and the first visitors came in to take a look.
Water equals health!
Taking a bath was very important in Roman culture. Sanitas per aqua (health through water) as they used to say. In modern terms, a Roman public bathhouse was a combination of wellness, gym, and health center. A visit to the bathhouse was a social event for which you reserved enough time. Here you met other people, you did sports, you got a massage, you could go for a beauty treatment or a visit to a doctor.
Wealthy Romans had the luxury of having their own bathroom at home. The more common man went to a bath house (balnea) or a bath complex (thermae) every day. The Thermenmuseum was a public bathhouse.
You were allowed to enter against payment of a modest amount. Men and women bathed separately: women were welcome in the morning, men the rest of the day until sunset. You put your clothes away in special niches and then went nude bathing and exercising.
You could choose from different rooms:
A bathhouse obviously had to stay at the right temperature. Therefore, there was a continuous fire in the praefurnium. The hot air heated up the rooms through the space underneath the floors and between the walls. The water in the hot water bath was heated via the hot air underneath and via a boiler that stood on the heating channel. From here the hot water was fed directly into the bath.
The bathhouse was primarily a meeting place where the locals met. But you could also make new contacts with people who were passing through. In between, you ate snacks. We know this through discoveries of tableware, oyster scoops and even oyster shells in the Thermenmuseum. All this made the bathhouse in the center of Coriovallum town one of the most important places for residents of the city and region to go to.