The modern town of St Albans lies to the east of one of the most important sites
of Roman Britain. As the third largest Romano-British city in the country, Verulamium
remains largely undisturbed by later building work and, with less than 40% of its
200 acre area having been excavated, much still remains undiscovered. The first
occupation of St Albans Roman City appears to have been a small military outpost
set up to protect a crossing on the River Ver. This soon developed into a municipium,
or a self-governing community, and is the only known British example. A rebellion
led by Queen Boadicea in AD60 brought the community to a swift end when it was savagely
raised to the ground.
It was almost two decades before St Albans
Roman City recovered, with a new forum and basilica being dedicated in AD79. Misfortune
again hit St Albans Roman City in AD115 when a serious fire destroyed a large part
of Verulamium. After the fire the majority of buildings were re-erected in stone,
many of which were floored with fine mosaics. The theatre was built at this time,
together with an adjacent temple and two monumental archways on Watling Street,
one facing London and the other facing Chester. Town walls, still in evidence at
various points around St Albans today, were constructed in the 3rd century, and
the projecting bastions were added early in the 4th century. St Albans Roman City
appears to have prospered well into the 5th century before finally being abandoned.
Exploring the remains involves a leisurely stroll around part of the modern town,
a public park, and the museum. Beginning at the museum gives the visitor a good
understanding of the St Albans Roman City's history, as well as having the opportunity
to view the considerable artefacts displayed that have been found during excavations.
On the opposite side of the road from the museum is the Roman Theatre (not to be
confused with an amphitheatre), which is the only visible example in Britain. Constructed
in the middle of the 2nd century it underwent several phases of re-building before
being finally abandoned in cAD380, when it was used as a communal rubbish tip. Marked
in concrete adjacent to the theatre is the site of some shops from the original
town destroyed by Boadicea, these shops constituting the earliest known Roman ground
plan in the country.
From the museum car park, there are signs showing the way to the hypocaust. A modern
bungalow now covers the remains of the bath house, the hypocaust of which has been
exposed. Following the Roman trail towards St Albans cathedral, several isolated
fragments of the city walls can be seen. One stretch, now tree-lined, is very substantial
and the defensive
ditch is still clearly visible to some depth to the left of the wall. The foundations
of the massive London Gate can also be seen at the beginning of this section of
wall, a model of which is displayed in the museum. Discovering the remains of the
Roman city of Verulamium, now preserved within a public park among lakes and wildfowl,
makes for a very pleasant and educational way to spend a couple of hours.
Courtesy of St Albans Museums.
Visit the St Albans Museums