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Roman Bath & Spa Culture: Hot Air Floor Heating

Remains of the HypokaustumWhoever happens to see the remains of the Roman “Hypokaustum” to be found in the green area between the Maison de France and the old garrison Proviant –Warehouse in Mainz, would hardly ever anticipate the hi-tech application that characterized those rooms so long ago. The basic idea of “base-board heating", that is heating the floors of buildings was originally Greek, hypocauston meaning “to heat from beneath or below.”

Floor upper surfaces heated in this manner were often supported by numerous delicate pillars or supports below. ( Note that the floor surfaces were often ornately decorated.) Wood fires produced the heat which was transmitted through the channels formed by the supporting structures which conveyed the warmth directly to the lower surface of the floor providing a comfortable, constant temperature of about 25’C about 78’F.

The “Hypokaustum” often had walls that also were heated by the exhaust, the smoke and warmth vented through chimney-like conduits between the outer wall and inner wall surface conveying heat and smoke out of the building. Roman bathhouse culture as similarly technically advanced using the hypocauston principles. The Sudatorium, the Caldarium and the Tepidarium rooms had varying temperatures. A regular procedure similar to contemporary sauna culture led one from one room or activity to the next in a set pattern. There were also swimming basins, fitness areas and even a library. In pursuing the idea of bringing mind and body into unity with each other, both men and women could take part in bathhouse activity – however, only separately.


The remains of the “Hypokaustum” are near the Schillerplatz in the park area between the Maison de France and the Proviant – Warehouse (Proviant-Magazin).