Bern

It’s a little misleading, really. This is not so much Bern, but a spur of land surrounded by loops of river next to the village of Bremgarten, on the very edge of Bern. This was a Helvetian oppidum and became a Romano-Celtic settlement following Caesar’s invasion and settlement of the land. As the Romanisation of the area went on, this settlement seems to have flourished, with a temple district of impressive dimensions (sadly not visible.) What is visible is two areas of consolidated remains that hint as to the level of sophistication this site attained.

The bath complex is partially consolidated and on display in woodland under a roofed shelter. It consists of several rooms with surviving hypocaust floor of tile stacks. Nearby, at the woods’ edge where civiliation begins, are the remains of a small amphitheatre with stone revetment, which probably consisted largely of earth and timber seating cavea.

There are more impressive extant remains in Switzerland, but there is just something about the Bern-Bremgarten (Engehalbinsel) site that makes it special. Travel to Bremarten and head down to the picturesque church. Then take a walk down to the river bank and follow it upstream. The wooded hill across the river is the Gallo-Roman site. As you walk upriver you are following the flow around the site. There are several crossings you can take. When I was there a decade ago there was a quaint rope-hauled ferry at the northern-most point. There will then follow some wandering in the woods looking for the Roman ruins. There are many sign posts, though. This is Switerland, after all, and is therefore organised. From the baths you can find the amphitheatre easily enough. Then you are back in civilization. From there, make your way back into Bern and to the ‘Tram Depot’ for a well-deserved beer.

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

Augst (Augusta Raurica) & KaiserAugst

The twin sites of Augst and Kaiseraugst sit at the northern end of Switzerland, close to Basel. Founded during Caesar’s Gallic wars by his lieutenant Plancus – yes, sorry Augst, but I made Plancus an insufferable a-hole in my Marius’ Mules books – Augst is one of the most impressive Roman sites this side of the Alps. The city thrived as a trade hub on the majot mercantile route that runs from Italy to northern France and Germany. Sitting on the bank of the Rhine, and at a navigable level, goods shipped from Rome could be moved from Augst downstream, and vice verse. In the late third or early fourth century, the constant threat of barbarian violence and economic and farming difficulties led to the abandonment of the great city and the creation of an impressively heavily walled fortress beside the river, which could shelter the civilians.

The remains of Augst (and Kaiseraugst, which is the name applied to the district that contains the late fortress) are the most impressive in Switzerland, and in fianact some of the best I have ever visited. Beginning at Kaiseraugst, it is possible to visit the walls of the fortress along good lengths and standing quite high, and a bath suite and later early Christian church in a curious little doorway on the riverbank and underneath a building, lit rather eerily.

From there, you could take a taxi or a bus, but you can easily walk. There are some hostelries along the way, one of which I visited with a friend and was rather pleasant. It is less than a mile from the riverside fortress to the ruins of the city, and half way, there are the preserved remains of a Roman house with a workshop and shop attached, which are excellent. Arriving at the Roman city, you will first find the theatre (rather obvious) and the museum. Visit the museum first, then the stunning theatre and the schönbühl temple opposite, which affords great views of the former. From there, explore the capitol and forum and the baths.

Augusta Raurica is a sprawling site of hidden surprises. Beyond what I’ve mentioned above, there are many, many places to visit, including other temples, gates, the amphitheatre, the aqueduct. All I can suggest is plan it all very well beforehand. The official website has a nice map and guide, and go here to find it. I spent half a day at Augst and as the sun began to sink I regretted not having longer. I would say make a whole day of Augst. It deserves it. If you love your Roman sites, do NOT miss Augst.

Remains: 5/5    Atmosphere: 5/5   Access: 5/5    Overall: 5/5