I got the inspiration for this post from my post on Milan’s Roman heritage: it seemed like a good idea to explore Roman heritage closer to home. I’ve mapped out some of London’s most important sites on the attached Google map, but obviously could only make a few of them in one day!
On exiting Tower Hill tube station at one of London’s main attractions – the Tower of London – the remains of Roman walls can be seen close to a statue of Julius Caesar. The walls have been incorporated into many buildings and even car parks – they’re also remembered by the street name London Wall in the western part of the City. We’ll meet it again later in the post!
Just a little further along, and a western neighbour of the Tower of London stands the Saxon church of All Hallows by the tower.
Built in 675 AD, this is the oldest church in the city of London and built over the remains of a Roman-era home discovered only in 1926, and whose pavement is visible from the crypt. The church describes this as:
the floor of a domestic house from the late 2nd Century. Consisting of plain red tesserae, it has a gully in it thought to be the position of a wall, showing plaster at the edges.
The crypt museum displays some everyday objects from the house, including lamps, bowls (some in great condition), writing implements and even the household shrine.
The atmospheric little museum also contains a model of the Roman city, built in the 1920s.
And appropriately for a church, there are fragments of burial monuments and tablets.
Peeking above that first picture of picture of All Hallows’ is the new Walkie Talkie building, only a minute or so away from the location of Londinium’s Roman Forum whose basilica was at the time the largest building north of the Alps. The commercial theme of the forum continues into the 21st Century as it’s the site of Leadenhall market (which become one of London’s markets in the 1300s). And it also featured in Harry Potter and the Philiphosphers Stone as Diagon Alley!
There are no visible remains of the Forum or basilica above ground, although some of the basilica’s piers are apparently visible from below ground in a barbers shop! While there’s nothing much to see now, the Museum of London have recreated the site in model format.
We’re also not far from a temple of Mithras discovered during building work in the 1950s but can omit that as it’s currently part of extensive city building work and will eventually reemerge as an exhibit in new Bloomberg offices. Again the Museum of London come to the rescue with remnants taken from the origianl excavation of that Temple. Interestingly, as the site was moved from its original location, archaeologists are now requesting that people forward old photographs to help them rebuild the site as authentically as possible.
The gods above are Mithras and Serapis. With the name of this blog, I couldn’t not include Minerva too.
On to the City of London’s Guildhall, home of the Corporation of London since the 12th Century. . Guildhall square is a gorgeous space but look at the elliptical black line around its edge – what it represents lies beneath the Guildhall Art Gallery: the remains of Londinium’s amphitheatre.
The amphitheatre was only discovered as recently as 1988, and architects have incorporated it beautifully into the Guildhall art gallery. While it’s not the Colosseum, the scant remains of the site’s eastern entrance are beautfiully lit to give visitors an impression of what the site could have been like. It’s even been used as a theatre in recent years.
Obviously, given their discovery dates, neither amphitheatre nor temple are featured in the All Hallows model above.
Moving on to the Musuem of London, which has provided some of the photos already in this post, there’s another sign of Roman London – in the street name (London Wall). The museum itself has a Roman gallery showing wonderful exhibits of finds from across London – not just restricted to the city walls of Londinium, but venturing south into Southwark and much further.
Part of London Wall has even been integrated into the display – visible from the museum Londinium galleries. What’s displayed here is actually the round turret of a fort (to which the museum arranges guided visits) and located at the North western edge of the city of Londinium. One could just imagine the soldiers making the short walk from their fort to the amphitheatre for a day out!
Inside, as well as the representations of the Forum, basilica and Temple described above there is much more detail on how citizens lived and died, including models of the baths complex overlooking the Thames, and mock ups of a triclinium, kitchen and more.
As with all the sites, many of the finds are quite recent, including a find of a Roman noble woman’s sepulchre (discovered in 1999 during excavations of Spitalfields market). The features of Its occupant – Spitalfields Woman - have been reconstructed putting a face to at least one of the ancient city’s citizens.
And If you can’t get to see any of those sites, then there is always the wonderful cast court at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where you’ll even find a replica of Trajan’s Column.
then there are the Roman baths that aren’t….