TODAY -

The walls of Roman Londinium

Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh *



Roman civilisation is regarded as an ancient civilisation, but it is the most modern of the ancient civilisations. It is also most documentable of all past civilisations and its governance model and its architecture, dresses and culture has helped the world civilisation to advance much forward.

Its governance system has given rise to many governance and administration models of present day albeit with little modifications. Each and every piece of their architecture are objects of wonder considering they were made in a few centuries before and after CE.

For a tourists, more than the beauty of a place, a little bit of history and a little bit of mystery is what makes it attractive. Sometimes, history is a little side-lined to infuse a spice of mystery for the tourists’ take home.

That is how the historical ruins are hot spots of tourism all over the world. If some mythology is associated, better still. For example, Kangla has been favourite spot of all my friends from outside the state because we invoked history and mythology both. This holds true for many of the ancient monuments in many parts of India.

Though, history is fairly well documented, little bit element of mystery surrounds the historical buildings, castles etc. in England also. Of course, in London, the information available sometimes may not be cent per cent, but is fairly accurate and as no guides are involved and we rely on their information board, fake element and exaggerations are almost ruled out.

So, when a tourist sees an object of interest, it enhances the knowledge; if he does a little further research, it makes him ecstatic, the real pleasure of tourism lies there. Suppose, in Manipur also, if we have boards in prominent places telling why the Sagolband Road is called so, why Kabo Leikai or Ayangpalli is called so, for any tourists, it will be a gem of information to take home.

The Trafalgar Square, the heart of Central London was once a royal stable, the third street before Piccadilly Circus is called Hay Market (now posh area, famous for its theatre), a tourist is compelled to imagine the scene of medieval London. The power of information in the mind of a tourists is limitless. That is the pleasure one derives out of tourism.

The Romans created a lot of infrastructure too everywhere over its vast empire. It is said that Rome was not built in a day.For a moment let us forget the tortures they have meted out, oppressions they carried out and the conspiracies and ugly facets of the roman courtiers and all I am not recounting.

Mine is purely from a tourist point of view. Their structures like amphitheatres are found as far east as Afghanistan, Leptis Magna in Libya (a small scale Leptis Magna is in London beyond Kingston, about 15 miles away) and lots in Asia Minor area till today. Towards west, after covering the major part of Europe, the crossed the English Channel and we have heard of Roman conquest of Britain.

Londinium was a settlement established on the current site of the City of London around AD 47-50. In my earlier article (A view of Thames, TSE dated 13.5.20) I have explained how the name has been coined; it was Romanised from Celtic Brittonic word Londonios meaning place of bold ones. Romans might have liked the name, so they retained it.

Julius Caesar first invaded Britain in 50 BC as a part of Gallic War, but actual roman conquest was in 43 AD and the Roman City of Londinium was set up in 50 AD. It sat at a key crossing point over the River Thames which turned the city into a road nexus and major port, serving as a major commercial centre in Roman Britain until its abandonment during the 5th century.

Before Roman conquest, the Celtic rule is not that documented and we have not heard much of Celtic Brittonic kings prior to that. But the roman rule lasted for four hundred years and made a lot of constructions in typical roman architecture. Four hundred years rule is quite a long time, but they could not fully romanise the Britons.

So, they fortified themselves within two and half feet thick walls all around. The inner wall is Londinium City wall, it starts from tower hill at Thames bank encircling the city, the ruins are still twenty feet high in some place and near tower hill it is thirty feet high, I found it really amazing.

The starting point at tower hills is close to the London Bridge, the bridge is said to have been constructed at the place where the Romans first made it. Another wall is to protect the Roman Britain, the wall is said to be still visible near Carlisle (could not go due to lockdown), beyond that it was scoti’s territory though roman garrisons moved quite often beyond that.

I do not have historical authentication, still the film “King Arthur” gives a quite good picture of those days.They conquered Wales also but before they could conquer the Wales, that side also they made a wall, the remains of that are still visible. When the Romans left, there was a void, the Celts and Britons could not fill in the void and occupy Londinium.

Eventually, the Anglo Saxons came in large numbers from mainland Europe, they first established another city near Londinium called Londonwic (wich=village in Saxon). During Alfred the great (9th Century), he restored the city and London was called Londonburg but it seems that the name London came only during Norman rule.

During the Saxon period the roman structures and the wall fell into decay. However, the Normans, recognising its strength and importance, rebuilt and heightened large sections of it, adding numerous gates to allow ingress and egress through its mighty bulk, and this pattern of heightening and repairing continued, unabated, between the 12th and 17th centuries.

Interestingly, the Normans were second generation Vikings from north and under their rules, Britain again started prospering.

London was walled city till late, but until from the late 17th century onwards, London began to expand beyond the corset of the old wall, and a period of relative peace and tranquillity meant that London no longer needed to be defended from nefarious sorts lurking around without the City walls.

With the importance gone and with a huge need of construction materials due to the expansion of the city, the materials of the roman city walls have been largely recycled elsewhere in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and now, very little of the city’s wall remains, in the heart of the city near the museum of London and near Tower hill, railway station.

Of course now, the existing remains are strictly protected. There is also a portion of an amphitheatre near SBI London Branch Office, but fully covered by the museum building. There is also a ruin of roman sauna bath. These are all within a day’s tour, Leptis Magna is a bit out of main circuit, so another separate trip may be required (because taking Uber or Ola cab for touring is with prohibitive price in London).

With a long history and amazing architecture, these remains of roman civilisation continue to attract an increasing number of tourists today. The value of every stone of the old walls of Roman city of Londinium is now more than their worth in gold.


* Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at bonbir13(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 28 2020 .



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