The Baths of Caracalla, which were capable of accommodating in the region of 10,000 people, are by far the best preserved of the Imperial thermae of Rome. The platform, cisterns and central black were built by the emperor Caracalla between 211 and 216.
The design is based on the same principles as the Baths of Trajan (104-109), which were built a century earlier, with the natatio (swimming-pool), frigidarium (cold hall) and caldarium (hot room), all arranged on the central axis. A series of secondary rooms, such as palestrae (excercise courts), were laid out symmetrically on either side. The overall area covered was 220 by 114 metres.
In addition to the bathing facilities, the monumental complex contained extensive gardens and a public library.
The Baths of Caracalla were originally adorned with numerous statues, few of which have survived. The Farnese Bull and the Farnese Hercules, both now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, were unearthed here in the 16th century. And the two granite tubs which now serve as fountains in Piazza Farnese also come from the baths, as does the column which stands in Piazza Santa Trinita in Florence. There are also mosaics of athletes in the Vatican Museums.