A flourishing Roman town once stood beneath the streets of modern Canterbury. The town became covered because people used to build on the rubble of previous houses, shops and cellars, and on the rubbish dumped in yards and gardens, raising the level of the modern town.
I was interested in checking out the Roman Museum in Butchery Lane.
Fast forward to the aftermath of the second world war, when archaeologists, while excavating beneath cellars and shops, discovered an under-floor heating system, wall paintings and a dazzling mosaic corridor. The site was no longer an isolated floor mosaic but the remains of a very large and very costly Roman town house.
The museum was built around it and, along with encompassing these remains, tells the history of Canterbury from before the Romans invaded through until now.
The settlement originally had the Celtic name of Durovernon, spread out on either side of the River Stour crossing.
The Romans arrived around AD 70 and stayed until around AD 410. You can tell by this artist’s impression that it would have been a pretty substantial town.
The theatre (the semi-circular building in the centre) was rebuilt to this larger size around AD 220, and seated 3000 people.
People living in the town included all the normal craftsmen, shopkeepers, labourers and servants, and professionals such as doctors, teachers, magistrates, etc. Allowing for the military and visiting traders, it would have been a very busy and vibrant place.
Roman custom was for diners to recline on couches set around a central low table. They ate mostly with their fingers, the food having been cut up by the servants, which seems to me inordinately lazy.
Roman women loved their jewellery. The pins were made of bone and used for keeping elaborate hairstyles in place.
Marble tombstone of six-year-old Publia Valeria Maxima, set up by her parents. The inscription reads: “May the earth lie lightly on thee.”
Terrible damage was caused to the city during the war. I find it amazing, though, how many magnificent cathedrals escaped the worst of it. It’s as if they were being looked after.
It’s a terrific museum and this only scrapes the surface. In fact, I feel like the whole city is a museum. With what’s still underneath waiting to be discovered, you’re actually walking on history.