At the fascinating Museum of London inside the Barbican arts complex, which features such treasures as the Lord Mayor’s coach, a cell from Newgate Prison and an ornate sword the City presented to Admiral Nelson, I look out on a section of London's original Roman Wall.
The wall once encircled the “Square Mile” that was the original City of London and is now its financial heart. It was built up on over the centuries and then largely demolished once its defensive role was no longer needed, but traces remains in several places.
Some other surprising remnants of Roman London also survive. Under the Guildhall Art Gallery, I see part of the Amphitheatre, only discovered in 1988. It is thought to have been able to hold up to 7,000 spectators, who would have watched wild animal fights and gladiator contests.
The Temple of Mithras, a god popular with gladiators and other Roman soldiers, sits a short distance away on what would have once been the bank of a small river. The temple’s remains have been moved, stone by stone, several times to allow for redevelopment but are now in the process of being restored to the original site.
Several figures of gods and other offerings recovered by archaeologists are now on display at the Museum of London.
The most poignant reminder is a carved headstone near the base of 30 St Mary Axe, better known as The Gherkin, marking the grave of a Roman girl. The grave was discovered while the deep foundations of the tower were being excavated.
She must have been an important figure to have been buried inside the City’s walls and hence she was reinterred with proper Roman funeral rites once construction finished. If we could talk to her, what tales of Roman London could she tell?
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