Italy and its sunny attractions may seem far away right now, but London has plenty of Roman ruins to offer. We cannot guarantee the weather, but if you bring your own ice cream you can enjoy a piece of Rome right here in the British capital.
Roman Londinium stood in what is now modern London. Established in AD 47-50 primarily as a shopping center, it was even from its earliest days a cosmopolitan place.
Legionaries from Spain and Hungary rubbed shoulders with merchants like Lucius Tettius, a North African trader who imported the Romans’ favorite fish sauce from southern France.
Less than 20 years later, disaster struck – Boudicca, queen of the Iceni, led her tribe to fight against the Romans, slaughtering the people of Londinium before burning the city down. After the eventual defeat of the Iceni, Londinium was rebuilt, and soon it was booming again.
By the 2nd century, it had become the capital of Britannia, welcoming among others the Emperor Hadrian.
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If you want to follow in the footsteps of the emperors, here is a short guide to the Roman Londinium.
Much of the Roman Walls can be visited, but those who just want to take a look should head to Tower Hill. Just outside the entrance to the metro station, you will see a fairly representative section of the wall almost all the way up.
Surprisingly enough, Londinium did not have permanent walls until the late 2nd century AD, after a renegade general, Clodius Albinus, declared himself Emperor and led the British legions in Gaul against the real one. Emperor, Septimius Severus. The revolt was quickly crushed and Severus ordered the construction of walls around the city to ward off marauding residents who might have taken advantage of the period of chaos.
By the way, don’t be fooled by the statue of Trajan – he has never been to Britain. The council bought the statue at a junkyard and thought it would look great against the Roman wall!
If you want to see any of the remaining pieces of wall in an unusual location, head to the nearby London Wall car park and Bay 52, where the wall never has to pay to park.
Find it: Tower Hill, Barbican and Noble Street
Tube: Tower Hill
All relics near the tower
The oldest church in town, All Hallows dates back to the 7th century. Over the years he has hosted the bodies of people executed by angry monarchs in the Tower of London, including Sir Thomas More. But long before such gruesome events, it was a bustling part of the Roman city. The Roman tiles were reused in Saxon masonry, and in the crypt is a small museum of finds dating from the 2nd century AD.
Find it: By Street
Tube: Tower Hill
The remains of a residence from the end of the 2nd century AD. bath house. Originally a luxurious house on the water’s edge, it had underfloor heating and a full suite of baths, including a warm room with a swimming pool, a hammam and a cold tub.
Find it: 101 Lower Thames Street
Tube: Monument, Tower Hill
Roman legionary fortress, Barbican
Roman forts were shaped like a playing card, with curved corners. See one for yourself at the Barbican, where you can explore the remains of a 2nd century tower that marked the northwest corner of Londinium. You can also follow the line of the fortress wall, which was re-fortified as part of the city wall in medieval times. The 1,000 legionaries stationed here probably had a comfortable job most of the time – they served as bodyguards and messengers to the governor of the province rather than frontline soldiers.
Find it: In the gardens of Wood Street.
Saint Magnus the Martyr
There has been a church there for over 900 years, but before the advent of Christianity this site, right by the Thames, made it an ideal place for Roman merchants to establish their shops and warehouses. Outside St Magnus is a remnant of the very first London Bridge. Carbon dated to AD 75 and made of long-lived alder, it is believed to be a stack of the bridge itself or the river wall of the nearby docks.
Find it: Rue de la Basse-Thames
Tube: Canon Street
On the other side of what is now London Bridge is Southwark Cathedral. In Roman times, it would have been a bustling colony of natives, foreign visitors and families of soldiers. As the city grew in importance, inevitable gentrification occurred along the south shore and trendy villas sprang up on the shore. In the aisles of Southwark Cathedral are mosaic fragments from the Roman villa that once stood here.
Find it: london bridge
Tube: london bridge
Roman Amphitheater, Guildhall, London
Eight meters under the medieval city Guildhall is a Roman amphitheater. The extent of the seating area is indicated by a black line on the sidewalk of Guildhall Yard; at the bottom you can tread the sand and imagine the roar of the crowd. Some 8,000 spectators could have crammed into the amphitheater, expecting a horribly entertaining day. Beast fights took place in the morning – likely wolves, bears, or packs of wild dogs – although Emperor Claudius brought elephants to Britain, so it’s possible more exotic animals were on display . Then, at lunchtime, the arena was used for the executions of criminals before the large-scale gladiatorial fights in the afternoon. The burial place of a wealthy gladiator woman was found in Southwark and she probably fought, and perhaps fell, in this amphitheater.
Find it: Guild Court
Tube: Bank, Mansion House, St Paul’s
The London Stone
It’s hard to believe that this unimpressive boulder of rock inspired so much devotion in the past, but for centuries it was used as the medieval equivalent of Speaker’s Corner. He even landed a brief role in Shakespeare. Henry VI as a rallying point for action against the Crown. One thing is certain, the London Stone has been around for a long time. It is believed to date from the reconstruction of Londinium by Governor Julius Classicianus in the 1960s AD, and it has been suggested that it was part of the Governor’s Palace, which once stood under Cannon Street Station .
Find it: 111 Canon Street.
Tube: Rue du Canon.
Leave modern London behind and step into another era and glimpse the mysterious oriental cult of the god Mithras.
The temples of this deity were built underground or in cave-like buildings, and you will feel the awe of the initiate as you step into the dark space with its immersive experience for all the senses.
A secret cult open only to men, Mithraism was popular with soldiers across the empire. An interactive exhibit helps you explore the artifacts found on-site, and on a visit to the temple itself, you’ll hear whispered conversations and an atmospheric light show.
Find it: 12 Walbrook
Tube: Canon Street
Another site just outside of zone 1 is Roman Villa of Crofton in Orpington
The only surviving Roman villa in London, Crofton once owned a 500-acre estate and was occupied for almost three hundred years from the mid-2nd century CE. Ten of the rooms are visible today, with hypocausts and mosaic floors. Many of these large rural estates were built as lucrative businesses (the Roman army ate a lot of sausages, so pig farming was extremely profitable!)
Interested in finding out more? Discover the permanent displays in the London museum, where the head of Mithras found in the Mithraeum can be seen, and leather bikini pants, probably worn by a gladiator in the amphitheater.
There is also the permanent collection at English museum, which houses inscriptions and artefacts from the Roman Londinium. Look for the Bacchus Riding a Tiger Mosaic from Leadenhall Street.