Day out: Chedworth Roman Villa

30 Mar

Roman stuff is groovy.  I could pretend to be all fancy and tell you about studying classics and learning Latin and blahblahblah, but let’s be real.  It’s a gut thing.  Rome and the people of Rome hit me in my groovy spot, and make me want to dance.  Now that we’re in the UK and able to visit Roman sites near us, I can’t stop my feet from tapping.  Imagine the wild west … with Romans and Celts.  Our sleepy, relatively wealthy and certainly sedately settled Cotswold as the rough and tumble frontier.  The roads stretching, stretching, stretching like a funiculus umbilicalis (see? fancy) from this far outpost of empire all the way back to Rome itself.  Building up cities and trade over hundreds of years and then suddenly — poof.  Rome withdraws, you’re on your own, good luck.  It would be like The Day After.  Like a zombie apocalypse.  The end of Rome.  The End of the World.   And for some very hardy souls, the chance to grab, steal, consolidate, fight and build something totally new.

Errrr … I’m getting to the day out, really.

We’ve been waiting for the re-opening of the Chedworth Roman Villa (£23.50 for a family, free for National Trust members).  The National Trust has spent some money renovating this site.  Like many other National Trust and English Heritage sites, it just seems to rise up out of no-where.  One minute you’re driving down a one-track twisting lane with only the occasional red telephone box for company; next minute you’re standing over two-thousand year old mosaics.

Geometric patterns are for under the banquet table and chairs, figural panels are the ‘stage’ area for entertainment.

Our guidebook suggests that the baths in the private area of the home — the balnea –were built to impress guests.  To be frank, they still impress me.  These baths are far nicer than the ones at my new gym — for example — not that I’m jealous or anything — and the villa itself is an expansive mix of private, public, business, and agricultural enterprise.

Not on the scale of the baths in Bath, but well preserved and relatively compact and easy to absorb.  Sing along with me now, children (yes, I actually said this to my children): apodyterium, frigidarium, baptisterium, tepidarium, caldarium, laconicum, and of course the invention which made it all work, the hypocaust.  There are examples of three different kinds of under-floor heating systems here at the Villa — anyone have a groove for Roman architecture & engineering?  Come dance …

The floor would have sat on top of the stacks of stone you see, which were part of the hypocaust heating system.  Behind is one of the warm plunge pools.

Hm, my bathroom — undergoing renovation — looks exactly like this right now.

An actor discussing local wool and local dyes.  In the 60F spring sunshine she was complaining of the oppressive summer heat. That’s got to be an English thing.

Most remarkable, the spring which drew inhabitants to this spot for hundreds if not thousands of years before the building of the Villa remains, and remains fresh, and still sings and trickles out to soothe and inspire worshippers.

The view isn’t too bad, either.

An audio guide interested the children, while I walked along with the National Trust booklet.  I was struck by these creatures:

According to the booklet, the large Roman snail — Helix pomatia — was introduced to Britain by the Romans as an edible delicacy.  They are thought to have come orginally from the limestone foothills of the Alps.  Now “they thrive around the villa, hibernating in the crevices of the ancient walls.”  Once again my imagination takes off.  The Romans are long gone from Britain —  the official Roman presence in Britain ended in 410 CE — but they have left behind not only stone but living legacies to their life and influence here.

Remains found at the villa, including Roman glass.  Admit it, you always imagined Romans drinking from stone or pottery — nope!  They had glass cups and goblets as fine as any modern vessel.  Cool, huh?

A view from within the private apartments.  In the middle?  The unisex latrines.  Modern and posh for the time, with seating and flowing water to wash the, ahem, cleaning sponges.  Let’s call those spongia and pretend it’s fancy again, instead of a multi-user sponge on a stick to wipe your behind.  As far as I can tell, this is the only fact my children have truly and completely grasped about Roman daily living.

About 100 people may have lived here, living and working in around 50 rooms.  That’s the shrine to the spring up in the top corner.

I don’t know the name of this flower.  I like to imagine a little Roman girl leaning down to examine it, seventeen hundred years ago or so.  Maybe she came with her parents from Corinium for a long spring break vacation with friends …

Get your dancing feet to the Chedworth Roman Villa and be amazed. There’s a small cafe, the inevitable gift/book shop, and some beautiful walks nearby.  Also just a few minutes away we found a good-sized local pub with decent food and outdoor seating so the kids could run outside playing Romans while we ate.  A perfect day out.


8 Responses to “Day out: Chedworth Roman Villa”

  1. Helen Gray March 30, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    Roman ruins are one of the things I LOVE about living in England. We love Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex; they run great “Roman Army Weeks” during the holidays and you can dress up as a Roman, bake Roman bread, practice Roman soldier drilling and archery, SO much fun.

    One of my favourite British holidays ever was a week clambering around Hadrian’s Wall. You can even sign up to join the archaeological excavations, which warms this old archaeologist’s heart! Warning, Northern British weather here, though!

    • Monique March 30, 2012 at 11:05 am #

      Oh, oh, OHHHH! Fabulous! I’m drooling at the thought already. I wonder what the weather’s like in Northumberland August …

  2. lizzybradbury March 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    Sounds simply fabulous! I had no idea Romans used glass, well, glasses! That’s pretty incredible and I always like seeing their ingenious heating systems, they are so innovative. Great post. L x

    • Monique April 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      It was hypocaust heaven. 🙂 I like to imagine the bits of buried glass I sometimes find might be Roman, not last week’s slob with a bottle.

  3. Zazzy March 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    Imagine how we think under floor heating is all modern and luxurious. Fabulous!

  4. 1heiress April 3, 2012 at 1:07 am #

    Why did you say the spring “sings?” Are you just being poetic, or is there some weird acoustical action going on?

    • Monique April 3, 2012 at 6:34 am #

      It sings out to me. =) Nothing weird or acoustically unusual. Tho it is remarkably peaceful and still feels like a sacred spot…if you’re feeling poetical.


  1. Day out: Witcombe Roman Villa « Crumpets in Camelot - February 13, 2013

    […] required — but the view is amazing.  This villa complex was contemporary with the Chedworth Roman Villa and one could imagine the families visiting back and forth, or meeting up in Corinium, Glevum, or […]

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