"Calleva Atrebatum................." Silchester by leics
Silchester Travel Guide: 15 reviews and 39 photos
................the town in the woods of the Atrebates. Once a thriving Iron Age town of the Atrebates tribe, later fully Romanised with grid layout, houses with mosaic floors, baths and amphitheatre. Within it is archaeological evidence for industries such as wood and metal-working, as well as a mansio (a sort of official staging-post for messengers travelling across the Roman empire). Now it stands empty, its ruins covered by pasture, but the flint and mortar walls (with layers of stone for strength) remain; a memory of what once was.
I knew of Silchester, of course; it is a famous Roman site, the museum in Reading is stuffed full of goodies which have been excavated there and it is one of the very few sites which accept volunteer archaeologists (though I haven't dug there). I hadn't realised quite how huge it was though, nor how impressive a walk around its walls (some of which are over 4m in height) would be. Set in the Hampshire countryside, it makes a perfect place for a wander on a sunny autumn afternoon.
There was a settlement here from the late first century BC, but when the Romans invaded in 43 AD Calleva Atrebatum became their administrative centre; the first really Romanised town in England, I suppose. At first the town was surrounded by ramparts (the Iron Age town had outer banks and ditches as defence), then the walls were built in the third century AD. There are large gateways to the south and north (from here roads ran to London, Dorchester-on-Thames, Winchester and Salisbury) and it is thought these were originally topped with battlements.
The amphitheatre stands outside the town walls, and was probably built around 50 AD, then rebuilt several times. Its banks were once covered with rows of seats, providing good views for all of whatever entertainment or display was on offer. The Romans provided 'bread and circuses' where possible for all their subjects, even those tucked away in a small island at the edge of the known world!
The walk around the walls is a well-marked 2.8 km, with information boards at intervals. Part of it follows the road; just around the corner from the amphitheatre is a tiny Medieval church.
St Mary the Virgin, tucked inside the eastern Roman wall, dates from the mid to late 13th century (although it is probable that an earlier version was on the site from the 12th century onwards). Sited on an enclosed pagan sacred site, it is built from a mixture of flints, and stones, and Roman rubble; Roman brick and tile can quite clearly be seen in the outer walls. The first churches would have been thatched, and there was certainly no bell-turret.
Within the church are some beautiful Medieval wall-paintings, recently uncovered and restored, which give an impression of what the building was originally like. In the south aisle lies a fourteenth-century effigy of a lady, probably Eleanor Baynard, whose kirtle, cote-hardie and mantle were all once painted in rich colours. Once, a painting on the back of the recess showed her soul rising to Heaven but this is now gone.
A tiny church, but one with a sense of great peace and antiquity, its great yew trees in place as they have been for centuries. It was lovely to find it open; so many English churches are locked these days, sadly. I shall visit again.
- Pros:The Roman remains
- Cons:None that I came across
- In a nutshell:A Roman town....
Inside the church of St Mary the Virgin (which is open during the day) there are some lovely wall-paintings. Amazingly,... more travel advice
The church of St Mary the Virgin is built within the Roman walls of Calleva Atrebatum, and its walls are constructed... more travel advice
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