In the time of the Roman empire, the baths were a place of leisure time during many Romans daily routine. People from nearly every class - men, women, and children - could attend the thermae, or public baths, similar to modern day fitness clubs and community centers.
The two most well preserved baths of ancient Rome are the baths of Diocletian and Caracalla. Diocletian's baths cover an enormous 32 acres, and now, the ruins include two Roman churches, St. Mary of the Angels and the Oratory of St. Bernard. The baths of Caracalla cover 27 acres.
Towards the center of the Roman baths, adjoining the dressing room, could be found the tepidarium, an exceedingly large, vaulted and mildly heated hall. This could be found surrounded on one side by the frigidarium, a large, chilled swimming pool about 200 feet by 100 feet, and on the other side by the calidarium, an area for hot bathing warmed by subterranean steam.
Hot air and steam baths had been known to the Greeks as early as the 5th century BC, and have been found in Italy dating back to the 3rd century BC. The original thermae were small, hand activated individual sweets called balinae. By the 1st century BC, hypocaust heating allowed for the creation of hot/cold rooms and plunge baths. Bathing quickly became a communal activity. The term thermae was first applied to the baths built by Aggripa in the last 1st century BC. Emperors later built gradually grander baths, and the thermae became an Ancient Roman tradition.
Not only were the baths meant for leisure, but also, for social gathering. In addition to the bathing areas could be found portico shops, marketing everything from food, to ointments, to clothing. There were also sheltered gardens and promenades, gymnasiums, rooms for massage, libraries, and museums. Complimenting these scholarly havens were slightly more aesthetic marble statues and other artistic masterpieces.