Built in AD 212 during the reign of Emperor Caracalla, the 25-hectare complex included three different baths, two gyms, a swimming pool, and a library. Open to Romans from all social classes, the Terme di Caracalla was more a center for leisure than strictly baths, though the Aqua Marcia aqueduct (the longest in Rome) was specifically built to provide water for the vast bathing areas. The baths were in use until AD 537, when invaders destroyed the aqueducts that supplied water and plundered the sculptures and precious materials decorating the baths; in the year AD 847, an earthquake destroyed part of what remained of the complex.
Like many ancient Roman ruins, the Baths of Caracalla are difficult to interpret to the untrained eye, so it’s worth booking a guide as part of an archaeological tour. Many small-group tours of Rome’s most important ancient sites include skip-the-line entrance to the Baths of Caracalla, along with the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Circus Maximus. You can tour these attractions on foot or join a bike or Segway tour.