The great bath is the earliest public water tank in the ancient world. It existed over 5000 years ago in the Pakistani city settlement of Mohenjo-daro. The tank itself measures approximately 12 meters north-south and 7 meters wide, with a maximum depth of 2.4 meters. Two wide staircases lead down into the tank from the north and south and small sockets at the edges of the stairs are thought to have held wooden planks or treads. At the foot of the stairs is a small ledge with a brick edging that extends the entire width of the pool. People coming down the stairs could move along this ledge without actually stepping into the pool itself.
The floor of the tank is water tight due to finely fitted bricks laid on edge with gypsum plaster and the side walls were constructed in a similar manner. To make the tank even more water tight, a thick layer of natural tar was laid along the sides of the tank and presumably also beneath the floor. Brick colonnades were discovered on the eastern, northern and southern edges. The preserved columns have stepped edges that may have held wooden screens or window frames. Two large doors lead into the complex from the south and other access was from the north and east. A series of rooms are located along the eastern edge of the building and in one room is a well that may have supplied some of the water needed to fill the tank. Rainwater also may have been collected for this purpose, but no inlet drains have been found.
Most scholars agree that this tank would have been used for special religious functions where water was used to purify and renew the well being of the bathers.
Not Just for Bathing
Probably the most prominent pool history comes from the ancient Greeks and Romans. A major change in the quality of life occurred in these times as individual wealth increased and, with this increase in the standard of living, came luxuries like pools. Water itself played such an important part of society for thousands of years and during this period pools were placed everywhere and for many reasons. Not only were pools considered aesthetic and enhanced the beauty of the property (much the same as today’s custom pools do in our homes) but pools were used for bathing, health, religious ceremony, socializing and much more.
In the 6th to 8th Century BC, the ancient Greeks had “Palaestras” which were essentially an open court area between columns and rooms where one could come and wrestle, box, play ball type games and other miscellaneous exercises. But most importantly, there were pools here for swimming, bathing and socializing in.
Pools at this time were also used by the Greek and Roman militaries to physically train for war. The great Greek philosopher Plato felt that every child needed to learn to swim as part of a proper education along with mathematics, writing, astronomy, etc. And, in fact, it was standard education to teach children to swim in pools dating all the way back to 400 BC.
In AD 305 the Romans built an incredible pool that was over 900,000 square feet. This pool was used for bathing and was also heated by giant fires in the basement beneath the floors of the pool; the columns and walls pumped the heat up to the pool above. You can just imagine how beautiful this must have been with marble and statues in the Roman architecture.