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.
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.
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.
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.
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.