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Enormous Roman arcade found in Essex was once part of a magnificent temple

Ian Harvey

Underneath an apartment block in Colchester, Essex, Britain’s largest known Roman arcade has been discovered. Experts think the ancient covered walkway had more than 28 archways covered by a grand gateway.

It was likely located at the center of the busy Roman town. In architecture, an arcade is a series of adjoined columns, usually forming a covered walkway.

Using the 120 meter long structure’s ruins, a computer model has been made to show what the arcade would have looked like dating back 1,800 years ago.

It is also possible that it was on the same scale as the grand arcades found in Rome. There were some sections that stood as tall as 26 feet (eight meters)

The Colchester Archaeological Trust has only now excavated a portion of the arcade, despite the fact that builders came across the Roman ruins over six decades ago. Archaeologists involved said that the impressive arched building was created so elaborately because it was the frontage to the Temple of Claudius, built in 54 AD. Today that same temple serves as the base of the Norman Castle located in town.

Interestingly enough, the Temple of Claudius was dedicated to an imperial cult in Britain, the only such one in the country. Dr. Phillip Crummy is the director at the Colchester Archaeological Trust. He said, “The discovery of this monumental arcade was originally made in 1954 but it was left untouched.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.”

There is a similar arcade being looked into in a small town about 25 miles (40 km) of Paris. It is called Pont-Sainte-Maxence. He explained that the original arcade and its grand columns were inspired by the ones at the Roman Baths in the town of Bath. Colchester has a remarkable amount of history to offer people today.

This summer the remains of this ancient building will be on display for the public under three glass panels. Visitors will have a great opportunity to learn more about one of Britain’s oldest recorded towns. Dr. Crummy has led his team in producing an exhibition to go on show.

Computer graphics will demonstrate what the arcade would have looked like back then. It will be projected onto a wall located behind the original ruins.

He said they have finally figured out how to work out the dimensions of the columns found at One Castle House in Roman feet. Furthermore, “These calculations have allowed us to design a digital reconstruction, as we have displayed here on a projector. With this discovery, we can now show Colchester what it was really like to live in a Roman arcade – 1,800 years ago.”

The Temple of Claudius and the arcade has been of particular interest to historians. They speculate that a large religious procession or pompa (including chariots and horses) would have gone from the temple to the Roman circus in town just before the chariot races started.

According to the trust, the temple precinct would have looked similar to the Forum in Rome. It would have been a bustling place with people frequently traveling to and from the temple.

There is some speculation that the site was a spot known for socializing and shopping at various market stalls. The trust explained that people would have come through the precinct by using the archways of the arcade. At the time of the Norman invasion of England, the precinct is thought to have been built already. It was likely crushed once the castle was built. This settlement in Colchester dates back almost 2,000 years ago, and it is inundated with history.

Once the Roman military chiefs conquered Britain in 43 AD, they established a pivotal fortress on the site. They were looking to enforce their power and control throughout East Anglia.

Image: Su Anderson