In 2012, archaeology in car parks hit the headlines. The perfect mix of the prosaic and the sensational; the ancient and modern, seemed to excite the interest of people who usually had no interest at all in archaeology. Of course, you throw in a king and an ‘odd feeling’ and that gets the tabloids going. But I am a Romanist and we don’t do kings. We do, however, do car parks.
On my wanderings I have found myself in many a car park, squeezing between Vauxhall Astras and Ford Focuses, tramping about the place to look at…what? Walls. There’s loads of them. So many that I’ve decided that ‘Roman walls in car parks’ is an actual ‘thing’. So here are a few.
Ok, that doesn’t look like much but York was an extremely important and powerful city in the Roman period. Founded by the soldiers of the ninth legion in 71CE; the seat of Roman power under Septimius Severus’ from 208-11 (and the site of his death in 211), the capital of Britannia Inferior under Caracalla; the location for Constantine’s accession to the purple in 306.
This is all big stuff. Seriously.
It’s ok. Those bits of wall in the car park aren’t the only surviving Roman walls. There are some quite impressive sections still surviving to full height. With bastions.
There is also Roman wall in other British car parks. Here in London (Londinium), you have to go underground. Under the aptly-named London Wall is the London Wall Car Park and if you go along to the motorcycle bays (around Bay 52), you can find… the London wall.
I like this because you can see the construction methods clearly, the inner core made from rubble with tile courses for stabilization, faced with nicely worked stones on the exterior, all on a beautifully chamfered plinth.
Nearby, hidden behind a nondescript door by the side of the ramp down to the bit of the London Wall Car Park that’s under the Museum of London…
This is what remains of the west gate of the fort and it’s associated guardroom, which stood in the north-west corner of Londinium. Built in about 120CE, the fort predates the city wall and was utilized to form the north-western corner of the enclosed city when the wall was built in the third-century.
This isn’t always accessible but the Museum does do regular tours/talks so look out on their website for those.
And here’s Colchester (Camulodunum).
In Colchester you can see a mixture of original and recreated Roman wall. Here’s a bit of the recreated.
Basically you can just see what the Roman wall looked like when it was pretty new, and you can, again, see the way that the wall is built using courses of stone blocks with layers of terracotta tile for stabilization.
Round the corner is a decent stretch of the real thing.
It’s looking a bit less pristine but then, it is pushing 2000 years old. The city was fortified with walls when it was rebuilt after its destruction during the Boudiccan revolt of 60/61.
The walls were built fairly rapidly and utilised whatever building material they could find. Within the wall structure you can see bits and bobs, like this piece of roof tile (tegula), some of which show signs of burning.
Again, there are other, pretty extensive, Roman walls surviving in the city. And they are easy to follow round, taking in some of the city gates on the way
I’ve observed that this is not just a British thing.
Further afield, in the Belgian city of Arlon, is this magnificent section of wall, complete with a bastion.
The foundations were built using old bits of worked stone, inscriptions and tomb stones, and it’s possible to still see some of those in-situ.
An earlier blog post has a few more pictures of the delights of Roman Arlon and some more of the many many carved stone monuments found there.
There is a rather sorry little section of the Roman city wall in Paris. The door here was locked so I could only see it through the glass but it’s not that impressive in any case. Still, here it is.
It’s in the stairwell of an underground carpark on Boulevard Saint-Michel.
As far as I’m aware, that’s about it for the Roman city wall of Paris but I discovered that there are some other Roman walls in a car park in Paris. The brilliant Crypt Archeologique at Notre Dame is one of the best places to see the remains of Roman Paris (see also the amphitheatre, the ‘arènes de Lutèce’; and the great big bathhouse at Musee Cluny). I had thought that Crypt Archeologique was just next to the Notre Dame carpark…
…but a display about the discovery of the remains shows that the site is actually inside the carpark, albeit separated from the vehicles, so I’m claiming this one too.
The crypt contains, among other things, Roman houses, a bathhouse, a bit of a bridge abutment and part of a quay on the River Seine.
Nimes (Colonia Nemausus )
Nimes is another city where it is possible to follow the circuit of the old Roman walls, happening upon gateways, decent sections of standing wall and sorry little scraps along the way.
Here’s one of the sorry little scraps.
On the Rue Armand-Barbès, just by the side of the pavement, are these hardly-noticeable remains of the city wall. It’s a bit more obvious when you look at the run of the wall that leads into the nearby car park.
It’s not much to look at but it’s just a small element of the, quite extensive, remains of Roman Nimes and so, for a Romanist like me, worth looking out for on my way round town.
Angers (Juliomagus Andecavorum)
In Angers, in terms of Roman remains, there is, frankly, not much. In the Roman period there were the usual houses, bath-houses, bridges and temples, including a Temple of Mithras. All of this has been built over, plundered for later building work, and swept away for the construction of the castle and later ramparts.
So what is left?
Apart from some artefacts, now in the local museum, there is only this stretch of wall on Rue Toussaint.
It’s a chunky stretch of wall made mostly of petit appareil but also looks like it has been altered, built on and up against, and knocked through so that it contains elements of Roman and later construction. It’s actually by the side of a road but there are designated parking spaces all along this stretch, so I’m calling it a car park.
A few kilometres away, there’s more.
Tours (Civitas Turonum)
Enclosing the carpark behind the Studio Cinema on Rur des Ursulines is this stretch of the Roman city wall.
The wall has clearly been built from reused material with a mixture of petit and grand appareil
There’s another stretch in the Jardin de St Pierre le Puellier. This area has actually been set out as a public garden with signage about the walls and the bastion.
Cologne (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium)
And, lastly, I was just in Cologne, a city with some quite decent stretches of its city wall still standing, on my latest car park-related jolly. So here it is, the Roman wall of Cologne, in a car park.
And another car parky-bit.
These are in an underground car park right underneath the Cathedral. The remains of the north gate of the city have been reconstructed up at ground level but down here we can see the in-situ remains. This being a rather historical car park, there’s also a medieval well!
And down the road is another section of the wall bordering another car park.
Ok, this doesn’t look very Roman, does it? But, trust me, it is. The Roman wall core has subsequently been faced with brick so it all looks much later but, at its core this is still in-situ Roman wall. You can see this better at the exposed end of the wall.
In the making of this post I gatecrashed a tour being run by one of the Curators of The Museum of London. He raised an interesting point about how the decision to preserve the particular bit of wall we were looking was taken. As a car park is, essentially, a big empty space, I started to wonder about the discussions that preceded the decision to preserve or not preserve, and how that discussion might differ if it was, say, a row of houses rather than a big empty space that was being built. How many chunks of Roman wall have been swept away, demolished to make way for new homes and shops? Probably loads. Maybe it’s easier to argue for the preservation of ancient monuments in car parks specifically because a car park is big empty space. That might explain why there are so many bits of Roman wall in car parks.
And so I rest my case. Roman walls in car parks are clearly a ‘thing’. The evidence speaks for itself.
Oh, and if you’re planning to seek out random archaeology in random places people will, inevitably, wonder why on earth you’re taking photos of a crappy bit of old wall in a car park, so be prepared for funny looks.