WWRD (What Would Romans Do)?

Hello dearies, I hope you are well. I am sorry that I didn’t post last week, but I was still in vacation mode! I literally just returned to London and let me tell you it was so difficult to go back to reality! I haven’t been sleeping well for the past couple of days, so if you know of a remedy, please hit me with it!

Even before my vacation, I’ve been thinking about today’s topic. It is something that excites me, because deep down I am a big history nerd! And even if travels and food and socialising are okay and fun, who wouldn’t like to know about the history of the place they are living? I know I am very proud of my birthplace for example, as it is named from Alexander the Great’s step-sister. Thessaloniki was Alexander the Great’s little sister and wife of Cassander, who built the city in honour of his wife. Since then, it has an endless presence in Greece for thousands of years.

But what about London? – you will rightfully ask. Well, a Roman settlement was established back in 43AD. Its site? It was where the City is now. And this is what I decided to do; I wanted to retrace the ancient Roman steps and give you a brief history and places that are important in the city’s Roman history. So, let’s go back in time and visit this ancient city that now is sadly below the foundations of the financial institutions and everything else that is based in the City of London.

Londinium was first settled during the first century AD and decline after 4 centuries. A vibrant city, it housed merchants and Roman soldiers and everyone in between. Hadrian himself visited the city in 122AD. However, every glory has its downfalls too. During the 5th century the city declined and it is possible that the inhabitants either moved to continental Europe or to other parts of the island.

My trip back in time started with a guided tour at Billingsgate Roman House and Baths. The house was a private property, very close to the river bank, and the baths was built adjacent to it. Our guide told us that archaeologists are still not sure if these baths were private or public, but their level of amenities inside is astounding. The house itself had its own central heating system, called hypocaustum (and yes, it comes from Ancient Greek words hypo meaning under and caust meaning burnt). So, as you can imagine, it probably had affluent owners, who also probably left in a hurry – at least, that’s the archaeological consensus at the moment.

After the tour at the Baths, I went on to visit the Roman Amphitheatre, which is under the Guildhall Gallery. It was found purely by chance in 1988, when they were excavating for the redevelopment of the Guildhall Art Gallery. It was built in 70AD from wood, but it was renovated later. Now, there are some fragments of it, for example parts of the wall. The Amphitheatre, with a capacity of up to 6,000 people, was an important find, as it was unheard of any Roman city not to have one.

After the Amphitheatre, it was time for another guided tour, from the Museum of London this time. It was about the Fort Gate of the Roman wall. Right now, it can be found next to a huge car park and it is only accessible via these monthly tours. Our guide, Joanna, told us that even though there’s a huge part of the wall next to the museum, this part was in fact medieval and there’s only some short ruins of the Roman wall outside. Still, I cannot describe the feeling of seeing the wall and even walking around the protected ruins. It is simply amazing, especially if you think that the Romans used to walk around the same roads as well!

My penultimate stop was at the London Mithraeum, a Roman temple dedicated to the worship of Mithras, a Middle-Eastern god that was very popular at the time, as a cult. The site, where it was initially found, now belongs to Bloomberg HQ, who have done a painstaking job in recreating the atmosphere of the temple. I can only say it is worth a visit, if only to evoke the mysticism surrounding Mithras’ name, who was later connected to Apollo, Jupiter or Helios.

Finally, my Roman day finished near the Tower of London, where you can find the remnants of the Roman wall and a not so accurate statue of Emperor Trajan. The reason? He has the head of Trajan and the body of Augustus. However inaccurate the statue, I think it is in the best place possible, right in front of the Roman Wall, constantly reminding us that Londinium has such a huge history behind it. A history of diversity and economic development, much like its descendant.

If you want to learn more about the city you are living in, I strongly recommend a visit to some of the places I’ve been to. A trip back in time is guaranteed!

Till next time,

Sofia-Maria

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