London has long been the capital of England/Britain. It was funded by the Romans around AD 47-50 and was situated at a key crossing point on the River Thames. It grew into a road nexus, a major port, a major center of commerce, and became the capital of Roman Britain. During Roman times, London was known as Londinium.
While Roman ruins in Britain are not nearly as impressive as those found in the Mediterranean (like southern France, Italy, and Turkey), there are still many ruins to be discovered. History enthusiasts should visit the charming Roman and Tutor history of Chester in England as well as the famous Hadrian Wall and even the northern Antonine Wall up in Scotland that few know about.
What To Know About Rome's Londinium
During early Roman times, Londinium was quite small - about the size of the city's Hyde Park today. Over time it grew to have a population of around 30,000 to 60,000 people.
- Peak Population: 30,000 to 60,000 People
In the early days, the revolt of the Iceni (led by Boudica) forced the Romans to abandon the settlement. Londinium was then razed (and the fires can still be seen in the archeological record).
But the Romans were ultimately triumphant and rebuilt the settlement. It grew to become Roman Britain's largest city and the typical Roman buildings sprung up - like a form and amphitheater.
- Razed: Londinium Was Razed When It Was only 15 Years old by Boudica
Londinium peaked in the mid-2nd century. After this time, much of the city was destroyed in a major fire, but it was again rebuilt. Although by the end of the 2nd century, Londinium was likely only around half the size.
Between the end of the 2nd century and the early 5th century, it seems that Londinium didn't expand and instead supported a smaller but stable population. The Romans evacuated Britain in the early 5th century as they retreated to focus on the core provinces of their crumbling empire.
Today there are a few remains of what was once the Roman city of Londinium in London today - some of these can be seen in the basements of London. There are a few remains located within the old square mile of London (the area enclosed by the London Wall). This area is roughly contiguous with the modern-day Square Mile.
The Roman Wall of Londinium:
Between 190 and 225, the Romans built a defensive wall around the landward side of the city. Much of this wall managed to survive for 1,600 years although today only tiny pieces of it remain.
- Roman Wall: Only Tiny Segments Remain
- Best Segment: On Tower Hill
One of the obvious Roman ruins is that of the old wall. It can be seen at a handful of sites around inner London. Visible sections can be found on Tower Hill, London Wall underground car park, Noble Street, and Aldersgate Street. Other sections can be seen in basements but there is no public access or require special access (like the section in the basement of the Old Bailey).
The best part of the wall is on Tower Hill and can be accessed via the courtyard of the Grange City Hotel on Cooper's Row. This part also has great signage and explains the history of the wall. There is even an arch that one can walkthrough. Parts of the Wall of London that one will see date from medieval times, but often they were built on a Roman base.
Old of the best ruins is the old fort gate. This is locked up in the car park near the Museum of London. These ruins are accessible on tours or on Open House weekends. There is also a less impressive part that can be seen in the car park at any time.
Even a section of the river wall can be seen inside the Tower of London.
One doesn't need to know much about the Romans to know they much have had an amphitheater. But the Roman Amphitheater of London remained elusive in London until the 1980s when it was discovered while the new Art Gallery was being built.
- Discovered: 1988
- Admission: Free
- Where: In The Basement of the Art Gallery
Today the surviving remains include a stretch of the stone entrance tunnel, east gate, and arena walls. They are protected in a controlled environment. These are located 20 feet below the modern pavement. Anyone can visit these ruins during gallery opening hours.
There are a few other Roman ruins visible in London today - like the Temple of Mithras on Cannon Street and an extensive Roman bathhouse and villa below an office block on Lower Thames Street.