London started with the Romans. Londinium was a convenient place to cross the Thames between Dover and the capital Colchester. Roman London is every where beneath your feet in the City of London, one of my favourite things is exploring Roman London. Come with me and discover a Roman day spa and an underground cult.
Exploring Roman London Buildings
Exploring Roman London is one of the Cultural Wednesday family favourite things to do. We have spent many happy hours seeking out London Roman ruins and marching like Romans along Stane Street and Watling Street.
What did the Roman’s ever do for us? Well for London, the wall the biggest legacy that the Roman’s left. The course of the walls determined the shape of London itself for the next 1600 years. It was more than three kilometres long, about two and half metres thick and six metres high. You can still see fragments of the wall. Buses and taxis whoosh up and down the modern road that is called London Wall, as you would expect it vaguely follows the path of old Roman wall. Just outside the Museum of London you will see a ruined fort. All the bricks that you see are medieval but look down at bottom and you will see Roman brickwork, the medieval builders just used the perfectly serviceable Roman wall foundations. Cross over London Wall to Noble Street for a longer section of wall.
TOP TIP: Start at the Museum of London, turn right and walk along the raised walkway. You get a birds eye view of fort, keep on going and then turn left onto the St Alphege high walk. From here you will be rewarded with more great views of the wall and find yourself neatly at the London Guildhall, all traffic free. Great if you are visiting with children.
London Roman Amphitheatre
London’s Guildhall was the beating commercial heart of London for centuries. Tear your eyes away from the beautiful frontage of the Guildhall to see a curved black line marked on the flagstones of Guildhall square. These mark the outer walls of London’s Roman Amphitheatre. Close your eyes and imagine the roar of the crowd.
Even better head over to the Guildhall Art Gallery and descend to the basement where you will find the actual Amphitheatre. One of our very first Cultural Wednesday visits was the Amphitheatre and best of all it is free!
- London Roman Amphitheatre, Under Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard
- Open: Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday noon – 4pm
- Admission: Free
- VIP visits to the Guildhall sometimes result in short notice closure
When I was nine we visited Hadian’s Wall, what caught my imagination was not the wall, not the Roman toilets (although my brother and I did love those) but the Mithraeum. Many years later on the way back from a press conference I came across a set of stones outside a 1970s office block that declared themselves to be the London Mithraeum. Imagine my excitement when it was announced that the sad stones were to restored to their original place after extensive archeological exploration during the construction of the London HQ of Bloomberg.
If you were not a geeky nine year old you will now be shouting, what is a Mithraeum? Mithras was a Roman god and a Mithraeum is the place in which you worship him. Bloomberg have done a fantastic job with the restoration of the Mithraeum. You start of looking at a wall of Roman stuff that was excavated on the site and then descend down Mithraeum. Sound, lights and swirling mist transport you away from the twenty first century and back to Roman London. Once again this time travelling is free.
- London Mithraeum, 12 Walbrook
- Open: Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 6pm, Sunday Noon – 5pm
- Admission: Free
Billingsgate Roman Villa and Baths
Tucked away under a non-descript 1970s office block on Lower Thames Street is a Roman villa and bath complex. Back in 2AD when the villa was built it would have had a fine river front location. You can see the complex underfloor heating system. At some point the original villa was extended with complex of baths with a cold room, warm room and a hot room.
- Billingsgate Roman Villa and Baths
- Tours can be booked on Saturdays between April 1 and November 30
- Booking is essential, click here for tickets
- Admission: £9
- You can visit the villa and baths for free during London Open House
Walk like a Roman
The glittering and glimmering skyscrapers of the City of London have their feet in Roman foundations. Look hard and you can follow in the footsteps of our Roman forebears.
London Roman Roads
The Romans are justly famous for their roads. Most of the streets in the City of London follow the medieval street pattern but the great Roman roads that headed out to all corners of Britain can still be found. Watling Street that runs all the way from Kent to Angelsey today you follow its path along the Old Kent Road and in the City Watling Street offers fine views of St Pauls Cathedral.
Stane Street leads to Chichester, Cultural Wednesday Towers lies on Stane Street just as it starts to climb the North Downs. In London it is the A24 and then Newington Causeway leading to London Bridge. Ermine Street led to York and Lincoln, Bishopgate is the place to start your Roman route to the North.
When I came to London on a school trip in the 1970s to the London office of Norwich Union (I know, why still mystifies me) we were let loose for half an hour. We stumbled across this amazing place that was full of butchers, the shop front of every one was hung with furred rabbits and feathered pheasants. It was quite a sight. Leadenhall Market was then, as it had been for centuries, a thriving meat market.
What I didn’t realise then was that Leadenhall has been a public space right since the founding of the City. This was the site of the Roman Forum and associated markets. Nowadays the butchers are gone replaced by chic shops and cute cafés. Leadenhall is now famous as the location of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. As you sit and sip your latte, look around you and think of the Roman visitors that used do just the same.
Looking for Roman London in Museums
Almost every new building in the City of London yields up some new Roman treasure. Most of it makes its way to the Museum of London. Any exploration of Roman London needs to
Museum of London
The Roman Gallery at the Museum of London is a treasure trove of all things Roman. It tells the story of the people who lived in Londinium. The wine they drank, the tradesmen and the entertainment. Pride of place goes to a leather bikini that would have been worn by a female acrobat performing in the Amphitheatre.
What I most like are these clay pots that look like faces. They were found on the banks of the Walbrook River in cemeteries or religious sites. even better you can look out of the Museum of London Roman gallery staight down onto the Roman Wall.
- Museum of London, Roman Wall
- Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
- Admission: Free
Head to Room 49 at the British Museum for a comprehensive guide to all things Roman in Britain. From London you will find an impressive tombstone, mosaics found at the site of the Forum and a rather impressive bronze head of Hadrian.
- British Museum, Great Russell Street
- Open: 10am – 5.30pm (8.30pm on Friday)
- Admission: Free
Roman London: a quick history
London owes its origins to the Romans. They founded Londinium in about 47AD. The site was a convenient crossing point of the Thames between Dover and Colchester the Roman capital. Fresh water came in via the Walbrook River that the new town gathered around. The settlement quickly grew. Trade came not only from the roads radiating out across the country but also from the Thames. Development took a step back when Boudica and her army burnt London to the ground in AD 61, archeologists still find a thick layer of ash denoting the fire. People from all over the Roman Empire would have lived in Londinium, a multicultural city right from the the start.
Andante Travels Roman London Tour
When I was doing the research for this post Andante Travels asked if I would like to go on their Roman London walking tour. I jumped at the chance to visit old Roman friends including the Billingsgate Roman villa. Before the tour I thought that I knew quite a lot about Roman London, turns out that I knew just a tiny amount. The Andante Travels Roman London Tour was led by two experts who really do know everything there is to know about Roman London. I learnt so much not only about the artefacts that you can see but also about the day to day life of Roman Londoners. Even better you an excellent lunch to keep your energy up for the afternoon’s explorations.
DISCLOSURE: I was invited on the Andante Travels Roman London Tour all views and fondness for walking in Roman footsteps are my own.