Friday, 9 September 2016

Caroline Lawrence's Top Roman Sites in London

A few days ago, a fan of my Roman Mysteries books emailed to ask which places I would recommend for a visit to the nations capital. It’s a good question. London has been almost continuously occupied since the paleolithic period and is crammed with history including a myriad of goodies from the four centuries of Roman occupation. There is history everywhere, especially in the City of London, the square mile that is now the financial district but once housed the Roman fort and port. These are my top half dozen Roman-related sites. Incidentally, they are all free of charge! 

1. The British Museum 
If you only have time for one stop, make it this one. I use it as a kind of club to meet overseas visitors. I go there at least once a month and take fans to the Roman Life Room (69) and also room 70. If you have time, check out the Roman Britain room (49) & the Enlightenment Gallery, where you can touch an exact replica of the Rosetta Stone.
Tip: Go in the back way, via Montague Place; they are now doing bag searches and you will avoid the worst queues. 

Related blog: The Riddle of the Roman Vase

2. Museum of London 
London’s other great museum will soon be moving to Old Smithfields Market and might have a train passing through it. At the time of writing it is near St Paul’s tube station in the Barbican. There is a wonderful section devoted to Roman London. 
Tip: Look out for bits of London’s Roman wall outside and indeed, all over the City of London. 
Related blog: Visualising Roman London

3. The Victorian & Albert 
Did you know you can see Trajan’s column in London? It’s a plaster cast, but still gives you a good view and lovely detail. Go up to the viewing gallery while they are refurbishing the cast gallery. Michelangelo’s David is also there. Yes, its Renaissance not Roman, but still worth visiting.
Tip: Visit the tea rooms across the courtyard and marvel at their beauty. 

Related blog: Trajans Column at the V&A

4. Petrie Museum 
Not far from the British Museum in the maze of UCL (University College London) is this delightful gem of a museum. Egypt was important in Roman times and you can see many Roman era artefacts on display. Look out for ancient fabric, palm leaf sandals, charms for turning away evil and portraits of some Romans who lived there. It is open from 1-5 on Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Tip: combine this with a visit to the British Museum nearby. 

Related blog: Roman Egypt at the Petrie

5. The Thames Foreshore
If you are brave, descend steep steps on the north side of the Thames beside the Millennium Bridge. Wear Wellingtons or sturdy boots and gloves. Go at low tide and you will be amazed at the artefacts literally covering the foreshore, including lots of Roman brick. If you are very lucky you might find a Roman hairpin, votive figurine or coin. You can keep anything you see on the surface. This is called ‘Mudlarking
Tip: Don’t touch anything you pick up with bare hands until you’ve washed it. 

Related blog: Mudlarks on the Foreshore

6. The Roman Amphitheatre 
Like most of Roman London, the amphitheatre is underground, below street level. Access is free via a lift in London’s Guildhall Gallery. If you look across the guildhall courtyard you can see the location of the amphitheatre marked out in different coloured paving stones, like an intentional urban crop mark. Down below, only a few fragments remain of the stone amphitheatre that replaced the wooden one, but there is a stylised indication of seating and competitors.
Tip: Plan your visit to coincide with the next re-enactment of Roman games.  

Related blog: Gladiator Fun Facts

P.S. A new restaurant serving ancient Roman food is due to open later this month near Fenchurch Street. I will report on Romas ambience and cuisine on 9 October 2016

If YOU have a fave London site with a Roman or Classical association, please leave it in the comments section below... 

Caroline Lawrences book The Roman Quests: Escape from Rome, is partly set in Roman London, AKA Londinium. 


debbie258d said...

Caroline, this is so timely! I'm coming to London later this month and wanted to see some Roman sites. Thanks for the recommendations!

Deb Watley

Sue Bursztynski said...

Ooh, a Roman restaurant! Has none ever figured out what went into garum? That might be interesting, if disgusting. But then, most people think Vegemite is disgusting and Aussies like me just can't go abroad without a jar in the backpack or suitcase...

I've only ever visited the BM, must check out the other places when I next visit England!