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The Baths of Caracalla have survived on the outskirts of Rome for almost two thousand years. The enormous complex was completed in 216 AD under the rule of Caracalla - an emperor infamous for having his own brother murdered.

The elaborate structure includes high domes and vaulted ceilings, and housed pools of different temperatures, saunas and gymnasia. Visiting the baths was an important part of Roman social life, but they required a constant supply of water. Achieving this took architectural ingenuity in the form of aqueducts that could carry water across long distances.

From December 21st, 2012, visitors will be able to view the baths from an entirely new perspective as the underground tunnels are opened to the public after a major restoration.

Above ground, the baths were decorated with paintings, mosaics and marble sculptures, but the magnificent tunnels below were not for show. Their arched ceilings serve a very practical purpose, supporting the weight of the baths above them. The fact that these tunnels are still intact despite their age shows just how well the architectural design worked. The tunnels were the domain of the slaves, who were tasked with keeping the fires that heated the baths burning. The heat from the furnace fires flowed under the floors to provide warmth in the various rooms and heat the water in the different pools. A walk through the tunnels will provide a glimpse not only of the underground architecture but also the behind-the-scenes work that running the baths required.

Watch Twig film ‘Arches’ for an insight into how the tunnels of Caracalla are still standing, over 2000 years after they were built.