diamond geezer

 Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day out: Fishbourne Roman Palace

Two miles west of Chichester there's a fairly ordinary village suburb - a few small housing estates, some ribbon development and the A27 scything through on a big viaduct. A couple of houses look out over the northeast tip of Chichester Harbour but, other than that, Fishbourne's nothing special. Apart from the enormous Roman Palace, that is. It was discovered by accident 50 years ago while workmen were laying a new water pipe, and subsequent digs revealed the presence of something very special beneath the soil. Not just a villa, but a palace so large it was equal in size to the emperor's gaff back in Rome. In English terms, Fishbourne's unique.

Fishbourne Roman PalaceNobody's 100% sure who the owner of the palace was, but the smart money's on the Wessex chieftain who ruled these parts around the time of the Roman invasion. We know very little about him except that his name was probably Togidubnus (and not Cogidubnus, as my Latin textbook repeatedly insisted). But a lot more is known about his place of residence, despite the fact that only a fraction of its hundred rooms still sort-of exist.

My first thought on visiting Fishbourne Roman Palace was that it looked a lot like a small secondary school. A scattering of low-rise 1960s buildings arranged round a car park, what else could it be? One's a classroom, another's a canteen, another's got toilets, but the largest (and longest) is where the main action is. At the nearest end is a small museum which explains the history of the palace and its eventual rediscovery. The displays date back to 1967 when the site opened to the public, and don't look like they've been updated since. There's nothing interactive, no buttons to press, just a presentation of the facts accompanied by a few models and some recovered artefacts. I loved it. Everything's smart, clear and concise, laid out in line with the finest graphic design of its day. In fact the entire building has a timeless simplicity, which I thought perfectly complemented the skills of those who created the palace below almost two millennia ago.

There's a video presentation to watch, which you won't be surprised to hear is narrated by Tony Robinson. I would have watched it, but at the crucial moment a coachful of foreign schoolkids turned up and swarmed the auditorium so I gave it a miss. But the main attraction is the palace itself, or at least what remains of the North Wing [photo]. A series of long-collapsed rooms, through which a wooden walkway weaves providing views of the finest surviving mosaic fragments. Some mosaics are barely there at all, the odd patch merely hinting at past splendours. Others reveal geometric simplicity, not especially amazing apart from the fact they're still here. Some have sunk into the earth, dipping down sharply where postholes and pits have caused long term subsidence. And one in particular is amazing, the large mosaic of Cupid on a Dolphin (although its intricate perfection is solely because it's been completely restored to demonstrate how fantastic this place used to look) [photo]. Elsewhere there are the remains of walls, and doors, and even a Roman central heating system. But mostly it's all floors, because the whole of the palace burnt to the ground in suspicious circumstances somewhere around 270AD.

Fishbourne Roman Palace

Head out of the main building and the palace's central garden has been recreated. Nothing formal, just a few hedges to mark where the edges of the colonnade would have been. As for the other wings, what's left of those is still buried beneath the ground. East and West to each side where the grass is, but the South Wing is somewhere beyond the fence beneath the houses and gardens on Fishbourne Road. What secrets lurk under the vegetable plots and living rooms we may never know. But the North Wing's impressive enough, and a very civilised reminder of the creative talents of our ancestors.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream