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July, 2017

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Chester’s position made it a strategic outpost of the Roman Empire. The River Dee was an important trade route and the Romans had a port here where the racecourse now stands. Lead and copper from mines in NorthWales were shipped out from here to the rest of the Empire.

The Romans built a great walled fortress on a headland overlooking the Dee, named Castra Deva. This was the base of the 20th Legion. It was the largest fortress in Britain and one of the most important military bases in the Empire.

Little is left now, although the present walls follow the course of the Roman walls and the regular street plan inside the walls is based on that of the Roman fortress with the four main streets meeting at the central cross.

The remains of the base of one of the angle towers can be seen near Newgate.

An “amphitheatre”: was built just outside the south east corner of the walls. It could seat 8,000 people and was surrounded by a sprawling complex of dungeons, stables and food stands. It was probably used both for entertainments and for practising troop manoeuvres and weapon training. About half of the amphitheatre is visible with two entrances. The rest lies hidden beneath the wall. The original stone seating was robbed out for building stone and has been replaced by a modern concrete ramp.

Near the amphitheatre is the Roman Garden, which has a display of Roman stones found during C19th excavations. These include part of a reconstructed hypocaust from the hot room of the bath house as well as the bases of the columns from the Roman exercise house. The rest of the stones were recovered from the City Wall during repairs in the C19th. The mosaic by the entrance is modern and incorporates scenes from other mosaics across Europe. The four figures represent the four seasons, with agricultural scenes between them.

Grosvenor Museum has two galleries displaying Roman artefacts, with the largest collection of tombstones from a single Roman site in Britain.


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