How Chester’s Roman roots are evident today

The original Chester was established by the Romans in 79AD, as a fort called Deva Victrix, and the four major roads that run through the city follow Roman routes that were created around two thousand years ago. The fort was a huge building, bigger than any other in Britain, which has caused some experts to wonder whether the Romans intended Chester to be Roman Britain’s capital rather than London.

Civilians came to live around the fort in time and an amphitheatre was built in the 1st Century AD. When the Romans left Britain, the civilian settlement remained and, today, while Chester has developed into a modern city with a population of over 120,000, Roman remains are still very much in evidence. A popular visitor centre, known as the Dewa Roman Experience, introduces visitors to Chester’s Roman heritage.

Britain’s biggest Roman amphitheatre

The amphitheatre built by the Romans outside their fortress in Chester was the largest in Britain. It is thought that it was used by Roman Legionaries for military training, as well as entertainment. The remains of the amphitheatre are still visible today and excavations were carried out at the site in 2004 and 2005 by the City Council and English Heritage. This work revealed the remains of two amphitheatres built of stone with wooden seats, one of which had succeeded the other.

Around two fifths of the amphitheatre can be seen today while the rest is awaiting excavation. The original wall that lined the arena is visible, with some missing sections, as well as two entrances used by performers. Outside the existing stone structure, an external wall is thought to have run, creating a corridor. Spectators would have entered this space to access stairways taking them up into the seating areas.

Chester has another important Roman site – a shrine to Minerva, the goddess of war. Minerva’s Shrine, which is the only one of its kind in Britain, can be found in a sandstone quarry, carved into the rock. The site is next to the route of a Roman road which ran to Deva Victrix from the south.

Other Roman aspects of modern Chester

As well as these two main sites, Chester has plenty of other evidence of its Roman origins, including the roads known as Northgate, Eastgate, Bridge, and Watergate, which follow Roman routes. Roman remains can be found in the basements of Chester’s buildings and in the city’s walls. Chester has Britain’s most intact city walls, which are a combination of Roman, mediaeval, and Saxon architecture. The lower parts of the walls on the northern side of the city are of Roman origin.

Chester’s Roman Gardens, which are modern gardens created in a Roman style, contain a display of Roman artifacts and a reconstruction of a hypocaust – a Roman underfloor heating system. An original Roman hypocaust can be seen in the basement of one of the restaurants in the city. Chester’s Dewa Roman Experience contains a reconstruction of a Roman street, while the city’s Grosvenor Museum has Roman tombstones on display.

Posted by Matt Hughes
May 17, 2014

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