Nestled away amongst the rolling farmland of my native Hampshire lies a hidden relic of the years England spent as a Roman province. An entire Roman town, in fact, lies inches beneath the grassy fields full of docile cows.
Silchester now is a tiny village clinging to the edges of the Roman town walls and doesn’t boast about its illustrious past.
From the first century BC, the british branch of a tribe called the Atrebates set up the town of Calleva as the main settlement of their territory. They built earthenwork defences and lived in roundhouses. There’s evidence of trade with mediterranean regions and it seems the Atrebates lived in some luxury. When the Romans decided to pop over the Channel for a little invasion Calleva may well have been a stopping off point for a legion or two. The Romans then proceeded to modernise Calleva with an improved grid-style streetplan, temples, apartment blocks and a rather smart basilica. In the second half of the first century AD an amphitheatre was constructed just beyond the town walls that could hold over 5,000 bloodthirsty spectators. It is now held together by the roots of the trees that have grown from the seating areas.
The once prosperous site was completely abandoned after the Romans left Britain, and unlike many other towns the Anglo-Saxons never bothered to move in. This means that there is a wonderful layer of unsullied archaeology just beneath the surface. I was lucky enough to visit during the annual summer excavations conducted by Reading University. You can follow them on twitter (@silchexcavation) or ‘like’ their facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Silchester
If you get a chance to watch them work, it is absolutely fascinating. The archaeologists are also wonderfully talkative and will happily spend hours explaining what they are doing and showing off their finds.
I managed to take some lovely photos of the amphitheatre, walls and archaeological dig. I miraculously managed to visit on the single day that the sun has been shining! I’ve popped them into an album on my facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.427309120644674.87243.426479007394352&type=1
The site is free to visit and is fabulous for an atmospheric picnic or dog walk. There are brilliantly informative signs dotted around the site complete with maps, diagrams and illustrations provided by English Heritage.