The history of swimming goes back as far as man has been on the planet. Stone Age cave paintings have been found showing people bathing and swimming in rivers and pools.
The first deliberately built swimming pool discovered to date is over 5000 years old, and can be found in the Pakistani city settlement of Mohenjo-daro.
This huge stone and brick deep water tank, sloping to a depth of 2.4 meters, was approximately 12 meters north-south and 7 meters wide at the time of building. There were two wide staircases which led into the tank from the north and south, and at the foot of the stairs a small ledge ran for the entire width of the pool so that visitors could dip their feet into the water without having to get right in.
Swimming as an organized activity goes back as far as 2500 B.C., with the ancient Egyptians enjoying the sport. It increased in popularity in ancient Greece and Rome, when swimming became part of the education of elementary age boys.
The Romans built the first recognisable swimming pools (not to be confused with the Roman Baths). The first heated swimming pool was built by a rich Roman lord Gaius Maecenas of Rome in the first century BC. Gaius was one of Augustus Caesar’s advisors, and designed for the emperor the very first Jacuzzi. Swimming pools were very popular with both the Roman and Greek emperors. They frequently had huge ornate pools designed, in which they swam alongside with the fish they kept in them.
Despite their grand early origins however, swimming pools did not become popular until the middle of the 19th century.
Records show that by 1837, six indoor pools with diving boards had been built in London, England. Then, in 1896, with the birth of the modern Olympic Games, the popularity of swimming pools began to spread. By the twentieth century, most cities and large towns were building public swimming baths for everyone to enjoy.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.