Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bath (Part One): John Wood and the Georgian City

John Wood the Elder was born in Bath in 1704. It's impossible to appreciate Bath fully without knowing a little about John Wood, who transformed the architecture of the Georgian city between 1727 and 1754. The look of Bath, with its magnificent neoclassical terraced houses, is largely due to John Wood the Elder, who designed the buildings of Queen Square (1727) and the Circus (1754), and his son, John Wood the Younger, who designed the Royal Crescent (1767-1774) and the Assembly Rooms (1769). Here is a brief gallery of those important Bath buildings:
Queen Square (north side)
John Wood the Elder (1727)

The Circus (north side)
John Wood the Elder (1754)
completed by John Wood the Younger

The Royal Crescent
John Wood the Younger (1767-1774)

The Assembly Rooms
John Wood the Younger (1769)

The Circus, Bath, and Stonehenge.

In designing the Circus, John Wood the Elder was, as is evident, greatly inspired by classical architecture—especially by the Coliseum in Rome. On the Coliseum, you may notice three ascending levels of classical columns: the Doric order for the lowest level, Ionic for the middle, and Corinthian for the top. Wood follows this pattern in the fa├žade of the Circus. Wood was conscious of the fact that Bath had been a Roman city (Aquae Sulis), and his own architectural designs linked the Georgian city to that Roman past. He was also aware that Bath had been an ancient British city; indeed, the Roman temple on the site was dedicated to Minerva Sulis, a syncretism of the Roman Minerva and the Celtic goddess Sulis. By the late Middle Ages, a legend had grown up about the founding of Bath by a Celtic king named Bladud (a 17th-century statue of him presides over the Sacred Spring in the Roman Baths). To connect Bath with its Celtic past, Wood drew inspiration for the Circus from, believe it or not, Stonehenge, which he associated with the Druidical rites of the ancient Celts.

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