Extraordinary Roman arcade found in Colchester is ‘greatest find of its kind’
- Credit: Su Anderson
Experts have come across the ruins of a 120-metre-long arcade, which provided a frontage to the Temple of Claudius, in Colchester.
Britain’s biggest Roman arcade has been uncovered – under an apartment building in Colchester.
The landmark discovery was made when the Colchester Archaeological Trust came across the ruins of a 120-metre-long arcade, which provided a frontage to the Temple of Claudius, dating back to around 50AD.
Today the temple forms the base of the Norman Colchester Castle.
Experts had been digging under the floor of the recently-constructed One Castle House, opposite Castle Park, for some time.
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The trust’s director Phillip Crummy said: “The discovery of this monumental arcade was originally made in 1954 but it was left untouched. It is the biggest Roman structure of its kind to be discovered in the UK.
“Its closest rival in terms of size stands in northern France, and shares some of the architecture we can see here today.
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“The original arcade and its grand columns are similar to those you see in Bath, at the Roman Baths. It really is an extraordinary find and it shows how much history Colchester has to offer.”
Remains of the ancient building will go on public display this summer under three glass panels, giving visitors a chance to learn more about Britain’s oldest town.
In Roman Britain the “stunning” arcade took the form of a series of 28 arches, punctured in the middle by a grand gateway.
An interpretation centre with a café will share the ground floor of Castle House with the newly discovered artefacts. Conveniently, the exhibit is located opposite the entrance to Colchester Castle.
Dr Crummy and his team have been working on a digital project to enhance the new display, where images of the arcade’s original structure are cast onto the wall behind the remains.
“We’ve now managed to work out the dimensions of the columns found at One Castle House in Roman feet.
“These calculations have allowed us to design a digital reconstruction, as we have displayed here on a projector,” he said.
“With this discovery, we can now show Colchester what it was really like to live in a Roman arcade – 1800 years ago.”
And Tim Young, portfolio holder for community and culture at the town’s borough council, said he is “intrigued” by the new find.
“This discovery will add an exciting dimension to the castle experience. The castle staff are intrigued by it, as am I and many others on the council,” he said.
“We opened up the original exit of the castle recently, which will allow all of the elements, including the castle itself and the new display, to come together.
“I think introducing something like this to the town opens a new chapter for the story of the castle, and shows us how Roman Colchester really is.
“We live in the oldest town in Britain and we must make the most of that fact.”
Suki Dulai, managing director of George Hotel owners Flying Group PLC, decided to preserve the arcade after previously planning to open a restaurant at the town-centre site.
He said: “After the discovery of Claudius Gateway, we’ve decided to preserve and celebrate our history with the community of Colchester.”
The company has decided to run the exhibit as a charity, which will raise funds for both the community and for World Food Aid.
Sarah Head-Anderson, group head of marketing at Surya Foods, part of Flying Group PLC, said: “We don’t want a profit motive to interfere with preserving the history of this fantastic find.
“We are very keen to work in partnership with the council and the Archeological Trust to create something that will celebrate Colchester’s history and help the local community.”
An open day is taking place at One Castle House on Saturday between 10am and 4pm.