Les Fontaines Salées

The Fontaines Salées (Salt fountains) is the site of natural salt springs that have been utilised since the neolithic era. In the days of the pre-Roman Gallic tribes the site was expanded to become a sacred area with numerous wells and a circular sanctuary surrounding them for the healing of the sick. The central, main, well at the heart of that circular sanctuary still produces effervescent water, loaded with argon.

In the Roman era, the site was vastly expanded again to include a massive thermal bath complex, which was further altered in the 2nd century to include separate facilities for men and women and a large palaestra or exercise compound, attached to the main Celtic spring sanctuary. This still contains traces of underfloor heating and is well preserved. The Roman complex also included a second sanctuary located to the west of the original circular enclosure.

Following the site’s destruction during the 3rd century invasion of the Alemanni, the site was used as a centre of salt refining. The site once more became a healing centre in the 4th century, and new buildings date from that period. This new site remained in use until the Carolingian era, when it became a private villa.

From the Burgundian (glorious) city of Vezelay, pass southeast through the lovely village of Saint-Pere (which has a museum containing some items from the site) and follow the D598 for less than a mile and look for a sign that leads off down a track through the fields to the left.

The site is in the idyllic French countryside and could not be more picturesque. It is a fabulous place for a picnic and a small kiosk asks for only a modest entry fee. Even at the height of summer it was far from busy, with perhaps four lots of visitors. The remains are well kept and well-presented and quite extensive. Simply, it is a perfect half-day out in the area, and will please most people, let alone the die-hard Roman fans.

Remains: 3/5    Atmosphere: 5/5   Access: 4/5    Overall: 4/5

Hammamet (Pupput)

Pupput (Colonia Aurelia Commoda Pia Felix Augusta Pupput) is a small Roman site northwest of Hammamet in northern Tunisia, in the suburb of Hammamet Sud.

Pupput became a municipium in 168 during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a colonia under Commodus, and gradually increased in importance thereafter, acquiring grand public buildings including a theatre and an amphitheatre. However, none of these grand buildings still exist above ground.

The extant remains were discovered by accident during hotel construction and include several houses with good mosaics intacts and in their original position, as well as a bath house. Around the walls of the site are displayed mosaics found in the excavation of the Pupput necropolis, which is said to be Africa’s largest but is no longer visible. While not one of Tunisia’s great Roman sites, it makes for a pleasant half hour, wandering among the mosaics, and is relatively easily accessible being in one of the major resorts, rather than in the hinterlands and lacking public transport.

The site is somewhat overshadowed by modern hotels, tucked away in a piece of wasteland which is less than picturesque. It can be hard to find, but it is sandwiched between the Samira Club hotel and the Caribbean World Beach hotel one street back from the beach.

Remains: 2/5    Atmosphere: 2/5   Access: 4/5    Overall: 3/5

Philae

 

It’s an odd thing, but it’s common to picture Roman architecture as exactly the same in all regions and over all periods – a sort of standardised brick structure sheathed in marble and with arches and columns. And, of course, that’s ridiculous. Take Philae, near Aswan in Egypt, for example. Several of the structures on the island belong to the Roman era, and yet to the everyday visitor, it would be hard to think of them as anything other than ancient Egyptian.

Philae had been a holy island (actually a pair of islands forming one civic group) throughout the days of the Hellenistic Pharaohs . In its heyday it was the home only of temples and priests and everyone else was forbidden entry. That changed over the Greek and Roman eras, and the place became something of a pilgrimage centre. The Roman buildings there date numerous periods. The Byzantine empire also held Philae converting some of the religious structures to churches, though pagan worship seems to have remained in practice at Philae until 550AD, when Justinian ordered the closure of the pagan sites.

  • Hadrian is accredited with the gate on the north side of the island.
  • The Temple of Horus Avenger was built by Claudius.
  • The Mammisi was finished and decorated by Tiberius.
  • The Temple of Augustus was constructed for that emperor.
  • The triumphal arch and quay are said to be Diocletianic.
  • The famous ‘Trajan’s Kiosk’ is an Ulpian monument.
  • Several coptic churches existed but are now gone beneath the water.

Visit to Philae is only possible by boat. It lies on the island to where it was moved after the building of the High Aswan Dam and the flooding of Lake Nasser. Trips are easy to arrange from Aswan. The island is stunning and contains more than just the Roman remains. Highly recommended for a visit.

Remains: 4/5    Atmosphere: 5/5   Access: 3/5    Overall: 4/5

Carmarthen (Moridunum)

The South Wales county town of Carmarthen holds precious little evidence of its Roman past. A fort existed here with an associated civil settlement, and later a sizeable tribal capital, yet only one Roman monument remains above ground. Impressively, though, that monument is one of few of its kind preserved well in the country: the amphitheatre.

Moridunum (possibly meaning Sea Fort, the site being at the Towy estuary’s tidal limit) began as a fort in the Flavian era in 74AD, controlling the lands of the Demetae tribe. A civilian settlement continued to grow into at least the 4th century, forming the new Romanised tribal capital of the Demetae. The fort, and later the town, sat at a meeting of major roads reaching south to Neath (Nidum), east to Llandovery (Alabum), and north to Llanio (Bremia).

The amphitheatre is surprisingly large for the size of the civil settlement or fort, and was constructed with stone revetments supporting earth banks and wooden seating. Now, since excavation, the interior arena walls have been reconstructed, and some 60-70% of the site is uncovered and consolidated.

The site is well upkept and very pleasant to visit. Crossing the river from the south, enter the town, turning right up the hill past the castle. Follow the road through the town, bearing right after the church onto Priory Street. Park up just beyond the high green bank on your left to visit the amphitheatre. The town is pleasant, with a number of medieval buildings, but for the Roman fan only the amphitheatre and small exhibits in the nearby museum at Abergwili remain to visit.

Remains: 2/5    Atmosphere: 3/5   Access: 3/5    Overall: 3/5