I love a museum that takes you on a journey and from the 300,000 year old hand axes found in Piccadilly to the 2012 Olympics the Museum of London does just that. But it’s always the Roman section I can relate to most, maybe because of how it’s been curated – with models and reconstructions, but also because you don’t have to go far from the museum itself to stand where the buildings and mosaics and objects were found.
The Romans came to the area that is now London (called Londinium in Roman times) with pretty much a blank canvas ahead of them and certainly made their mark with their walls, forum, amphitheatre, temples and docks. They were the first to bridge the Thames and modern day London Bridge deviates little from their original placement of the bridge.
Trade was crucial to the beginnings of Roman London, like a frontier town, with merchants and sailors coming and going, timber built warehouses, goods from all over the Empire and an impressive Forum built c.AD 70 (rebuilt c.AD90) for market traders and city administration. The industry and workshops portrayed in the museum represent London in the 2nd Century AD; a thriving industrial and trade town with the Roman ‘civilised’ buildings of the baths and amphitheatre that you would expect to see in order to keep the people happy.
The opulent mosaics in masonry built private residences (e.g. Bucklersbury Mosaic, above) and the Temple of Mithras, a religious, membership only cult favoured by the Roman army, have been dated to the 4th Century AD, c.200 years later. By this time a defensive river wall had been built, impeding river trade and it may be that the city had a very different, more tranquil feel to it.
You can see remains of the Roman wall (along with later Medieval additions) from the museum itself. If you head out of the museum to the Guildhall you can see the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, then turn south towards Bank to Bucklersbury and you’ll be standing on the banks of the river Walbrook that once flowed through the city. It was along this river that artisans lived and worked, and where later the Bucklersbury mosaic and Temple of Mithras would be built. This area is currently being excavated and built over, but hopefully the remains of the temple will be suitably factored in.
For more about the Walbrook excavations see – http://walbrookdiscovery.wordpress.com/
Museum of London – http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/london-wall/
150 London Wall, London, EC2Y 5HN
Open 10am – 6pm