Ardoch (Alauna?)

Originally dating from the time of the 1st century campaigns of Agricola, Ardoch is an impressive sight. The first fort, which was part of the so-called ‘Gask Ridge’ system, was replaced after a period of inactivity by a second, Antonine fort. The first fort was of timber and earth, though the second contained a number of stone buildings within. Although no stonework is visible today, Ardoch remains one of the most impressive Roman sites in the British isles.

The remains, which consist of some of the most striking rampart and ditch defences in the entire Roman world, were enclosed by the local landowner centuries ago, protecting them from the usual ploughing that would have ruined the site. What we are left with is simply breathtaking. The south and west ramparts are impressive enough, but the north and east are incredibly pronounced. The site lies just outside the village of Braco. Parking is easy enough, a little uphill from the fort on the road side, from where you can walk back downhill towards the village and cross the gate into the field to explore the ditches.

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

Girona (Gerunda)

One of the four regional capitals of Cataluyna, Girona (or Gerona) is a beautiful city – the old part, anyway. Full of Jewish and Medieval remains with an enchanting arab bathhouse, breathtaking painted houses along the Riu Onyar, there are a thousand reasons to visit the town.

As Gerunda, the city was a Roman foundation upon an existing Ausetani tribal settlement. Pompey created fortress here in the Sertorian war. The city flourished as a civil settlement and continued to grow into late Rome and beyond. It had an atypical plan, largely due to the early military foundation being limited by topography. Rather than the traditional ‘playing card’ shape, Gerunda was limited by walls in a roughly triangular shape, with the base of the triangle being the river and the upper point at the top of the hill.

No interior buildings remain of the Roman city, buried as they are under other historic structures, but two facets remain to thrill the Roman fan. The first is the museums – the city’s History museum close to the cathedral and the Archaeological museum in the monastery of St Pere de Galligants, at the northern edge of the city, outside the walls. Both contain a wealth of artefacts, including fabulous mosaics, lapidary delights and an excellent corn measure.

And then there are the walls. The medieval walls follow the Roman line for some of their circuit. Start at the city’s north gate on the Carrer de la Fora, near the cathedral. From the northern side of the gate, follow the outer edge of the walls up the slope past the cathedral complex up to the ruined fortress complex known as the Gardens of Germany. All this way, the medieval walls are built upon the Roman ones, using them as foundations. At the gardens, find the full-height walls again and follow them south along the edge of the city. This section is medieval, but from it, looking back towards the cathedral, you can see a fine section of the earlier Roman walls rising above the roofs and gardens. You can get to the bottom of those walls through a car park if you wish. They, with the north gate, are the most impressive remains in the city. In the meantime, complete the circuit of the later walls, and then find the plaça sant domenec, where the last Roman fragments can be found. Here, if you examine the walls to the side of the street, you will see the stonework of the Roman gate known as the Porta Rufina within the later walls.

Girona is one of Catalunya’s most stunning cities and the atmosphere is remarkable. Go to Girona. Go for the Roman remains. Stay for the rest.

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

Metchley

In the south end of Birmingham, not far from Cadbury world, in the open ground between Birmingham University and the Queen Elizabeth hospital, stand a few shallow ditches and mounds, dotted with notice boards. This is what remains of Metchley’s Roman fort, constructed in the mid 1st century, with two separate periods of occupation and abandoned in the Hadrianic period. The fort was timber and turf, with no stonework, and the plan is somewhat complex due to the existence of two distinct sets of ramparts superimposed from the two periods of occupation, as well as several external annexes, each fortified in their own right.

The name of the fort is unknown as no epigraphy has come to light and the fort was abandoned long before the Antonine Itinerary and the Notitia Dignitatum, the two sources used to plot the Roman names of Britain’s sites. The physical remains are rater confusing, and lie in a small area of green that are hard to visit by car, due to the road system and the parking difficulties of hospital and university. There is a station very close. But in a place I never expected to find it, Metchley’s remains form a tiny oasis of calm in a busy concrete world.

Remains: 1/5    Atmosphere: 3/5   Access: 2/5    Overall: 2/5

Oudna (Uthina)

Tunisia abounds with Roman sites. Some are obscure and small (Pupput) – some are immense and famouse (Dougga). And then there are a few that are simply astounding places that are virtually unknown to tourists. Such is Dougga. We spent several hours there and the only other living things we saw were a small team of archeologists and a recalcitrant donkey.

In Tunisia, Roman sites whose Latin names start with ‘Th’ (and particularly ‘Thu’) are names that have come down from earlier Numidian settlements, and so their origin is obvious. See Thugga, Thuburbo Maius, Thubursicum etc. Thus Oudna might be seen as a later settlement. There is evidence that Oudna was originally a fountation of settled veterans the 3rd legion, given a stone that references them visible at the Oudna farmhouse and the Augustan name ‘Colonia Pietas Iulia Tertiadecimanorum Uthina‘. The city grew in prominence until the third century when it was attacked and never fully recovered. In the Byzantine era, the capitol was formed into a powerful fortress.

Oudna’s most notable attraction is its amphitheatre, which is being reconstructed with relative sympathy compared with, say Istanbul’s walls. The amphitheatre is a stunning sight and makes the visit worthwhile just on its own. Add to that several townhouses with mosaics and baths, a theatre currently little more than a depression in the ground, a ruined cistern or two, the capitol and forum buildings, two public baths and various odd ruins jutting from the undergrowth, and Oudna is a joy to explore. The forum/capitol area is an impressive survival. The ‘Great baths’ were closed for excavation while I was there, but their scale is impressive, especially given that what is left is the fragments after a stray bomb strike in world war 2.

Not far from the site itself is the line of one of the most intact and impressive aqueducts I have seen. This channel, which ran from Zaghouan in the south to Carthage in the north, over 80 kilometers, is at its most impressive around Oudna.

The loneliness of the site adds to its draw. Never devote less than half a day to it. You cold wander the place for hours, finding fascinating nooks and crannies. And the rural setting is beautiful, with the Djebel Zaghouan rising blue-gray in the distance above the fields. Oudna is a highlight of Tunisia for me. It’s only negative is ease of visiting. Taxi, Louage or hire car is the only feasible possibility.

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

 

Piercebridge (Morbium?)

The pretty little village of Piercebridge in County Durham sits atop a fort originally of late 1st century date, which may be the ‘Morbium’ mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography.

The fort here guarded Dere Street’s crossing of the Tees, and the impressive remains of the bridge abutment on the south bank can still be seen. Piercebridge is a sleep little village and pleasant to stroll around. Park up in the village centre. Beneath the village green are the central range of buildings (headquarters, CO’s house and granaries.) Look for the small, interesting church and take the alleyway  one house to the right of it. This brings you to the main area of excavations.

Here you can see the east wall and gate of the fort, with some lilia pits (for defensive spikes) marked outside it, an impressive section of defensive ditch with a causeway, a few internal buildings, including a late Roman courtyard house with heating or drainage channels, and a few parts of civilian buildings across the ditch. It is an interesting set of ruins despite the minimal excavations. At the far end, looking over a house’s back wall, you can see stonework that apparently belonged to a bath house.

Across the causeway and out past the wall, stop and look across the hedge in front of you. This is the area of the vicus (civilian settlement.) Turn left from here and walk along the path past the farm. If you are very lucky you will be able to get into the field behind the barn and explore the fort’s corner tower and a latrine. When I was last there it was so overgrown my photos look like shots of deepest Borneo and show no stonework at all.

From there, head back into the village, and then leave southwards, over the bridge and past the pub (I know…. past the pub, not into it. You can always come back.) Park up in the big car park just before the bend and look for the signs for the footpath leading towards the river. This will take you to the bridge abutment which, along with Willowford and Chesters on the wall, is one of the three best in Britain. This gives you some idea of the impressive scale of the bridge in its day.

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

Malain (Mediolanum)

In the wilderness, just off a crossroads in the countryside in Burgundy, stands a little visited Roman site, open to all at all times and generally untended. Mediolanum, near the modern village of Malain, was founded in 70 AD in the lands of the Aedui (see Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars for more infor on THAT tribe.) The town grew to become a sizeable trade centre, importing wine from far afield as attested by amphorae from the site, via navigable rivers connected to the Saone and therefore the Mediterranean.

The site covers a reasonable area, but only a portion of it has been consolidated and is truly visitable. That consists mainly of a long street with workshops, stores and houses leading off both sides. You can drop down the hill a little and visit the rear of some buildings. The main area is preserved beneath a shelter and is really very interesting and well-conserved. Between there and the road some buildings and streets are discernable within the grass, too, and at the end of the site are overgrown walls and ruins.

There are no grand public buildings here, but as a small commercial site it is still of surprising interest. There is something peaceful about wandering around the site in such a peaceful, unspoilt rural area, and you would be very unlucky if you didn’t have the site to yourself.

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

Ambleside (Galava)

The auxiliary fort of Galava is a Hadrianic construction atop the remains of a Flavian fort. The home of an unknown auxiliary unit who may have been the same unit that practiced with slings at Burnswark, since similar discard piles of sling bullets have been found at both sites.

Galava is in a stunning location. At Waterhead, from the Windermere ferry terminal, walk past the Waterhead hotel (just past it, for now!) and across the Borans field park. At the far side of the park you will find the site of Galava. It is freely open to visit. The fort platform is clearly visible and the few parts that have been excavated are enclosed within fences. These consist of the south and east gates, and the central range of stone buildings (commanding officer’s house, headquarters building and two granaries). From the fort there is a pleasant view over the bushes south across Windermere.

The stone remains are well preserved and surprisingly well-kept considering they are in a field and clearly largely untended. Of particular interest are the two granaries built in slightly different forms, and the headquarters strongroom. Walking the fort area is very pleasant and Ambleside is a stunning location anyway. From Ambleside, if you’re feeling brave enough and your car’s not an old banger, head for the Hardknot pass and the fort nestled on the pass top there. On the way back into town, you’ll pass the Waterhead Inn again. NOW you go in… 😉

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