Roses, Romans and relics in St Albans
PUBLISHED: 13:58 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:19 20 February 2013
There's no need to head off to the Med this summer to discover Roman treasures, a wonderful spectacle awaits visitors to St Albans.Sue Armstrong takes a closer look
WHICHEVER way you approach St Albans, the magnificent Cathedral and Abbey Church dominates the skyline. It stands on a hill overlooking the valley of the river Ver and beyond it lie the buried ruins of the Roman city of Verulamium.
St Albans is vibrant and full of character and its history is evident at every turn. The colourful market and cobbled streets add to its appeal, as do the excellent schools, shops, restaurants and the wide range of entertainment available here.
The city was first built as Verulamium by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago and renamed after Britain's first Christian martyr, St Alban. He was executed for his beliefs in the 3rd century AD and a candlelit shrine has been dedicated to him. Intricately carved with a scene of the martyrdom, it can be found at the heart of the cathedral.
There is much to see and do in and around St Albans, discovering the modern city of today and the life and times of centuries past. Reminders of the Roman occupation are all around and a visit to the Verulamium Museum gives a fascinating insight into the way the Romans lived, as well as an opportunity to view numerous artefacts that have been found during excavations.
The entrance to the Verulamium Museum is via a rotunda, designed to reflect Roman construction techniques. Every second weekend of the month, it is invaded by Roman soldiers who demonstrate the tactics and equipment of the Imperial Army. The museum stands in the middle of what was one of Britain's largest Roman cities and much of what remains lies underneath Verulamium Park. But there are several parts of the site where amazing ruins have been revealed, including some of the finest mosaics outside the Mediterranean.
The city was first built as Verulamium by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago
Exploring these remains involves a leisurely stroll in the park, with its lakes and wildfowl, and around part of the modern town. The Roman Theatre of Verulamium is one of the treasures that can be seen, dating back to around 140AD. It is the only example of its kind in the country, having a stage rather than an Amphitheatre, with seating for 2,000 or more spectators. These ruins were unearthed in 1847 and subsequent excavations have exposed a row of shop foundations, a Roman Villa and a secret shrine, all thought to date from the 1st century.
Signs lead the way to a modern building which houses a 1,800-year-old hypocaust. On show here is an example of one of the first heating systems and it has an elaborate mosaic floor. This was uncovered during excavations in the 1930s and it was decided to leave it in its original location, where it formed part of the meeting and reception rooms of a large Roman town house.
Following the Roman trail towards the cathedral, sections of the city walls can be seen, originally stretching 2 miles and enclosing an area of 203 acres. The foundations of the massive London Gate are also revealed, originally one of four main entrances to the town.
The Roman invasion of Britain is arguably one of the most significant events ever to happen in our history, affecting our language, culture, geography and architecture. Even though thousands of years have passed since that chapter, their mark is still firmly imprinted in St Albans today.
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