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Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths – an historical gem

If you’re looking for a great day out in South Wales that offers history, fresh air and plenty to see, we have a tip to share with you. 
 
Whether you’re a couple, family, group or individual wandering aimlessly around the Newport area in need of some fascinating culture, Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths has oodles of things to look at, learn about and participate in. At BCH Camping we know our customers are outdoor types so we’re always keen to pass on information about recommended destinations, so we thought for this blog we would focus on this historical gem.
 
Located just outside of Newport, South Wales, post code NP18 1AE, the site of Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths is easily accessible from Caerleon’s High Street.
 
What is there to see and do at Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths?
The Roman fortress, known to the Romans as Isca Augusta, dates back to 75 AD and offers a unique insight into the lives of the 2nd Augusta Legion stationed there until the late 3rd century. Visitors have access to:  
The Roman Fortress of Isca Augusta
Isca, now known as Caerleon was, in 75 AD, part of Silures territory who were a powerful local tribe. The Romans decided to assert their authority by building the 2nd Augusta Legion fort at Isca, sending a clear message to the Silures and any other local tribe who may have been getting above themselves.
 
Roman Wales was the farthest western point of the Roman Empire in Britain and the fortress at Caerleon, which housed 6000 legionnaires, was one of just three permanent Roman legionary fortresses.
 
Visitors today can see the remaining sections of the fortress wall and gain an understanding of the size of the site, the kind of lives the inhabitants led there and how it depicts the Roman supremacy of the time.
 
The Roman barracks at Caerleon
The foundation walls that can be seen of the Fortress of Isca Augusta give a clear picture of the layout of four long, narrow blocks of 12 pairs of rooms, each fronted by a veranda, with a larger suite at the end that was exclusively for the Centurion.
 
Each of the small rooms accommodated eight soldiers with a linked room for them to store their belongings and kit. They had access to communal toilets, and visitors today can see the remains of a bread oven at one end of the barracks, a gate, cookhouses and drains.
 
In the nearby National Roman Legion Museum there is a reconstructed barrack room, open to the public at weekends and school holidays, which shows where the soldiers would have slept in a typical room layout. There is also an opportunity for children to try on replica armour.
 
Caerleon Amphitheatre
Caerleon Amphitheatre is where soldiers and citizens of Isca would relax and enjoy gory entertainment such animal hunts and gladiators in combat. Erected around 90 AD, and with enough seating for an entire legion of over 6000 spectators, the amphitheatre was not only used for sport and entertainment, it was also used as a parade ground.

The amphitheatre is oval and huge at 184 feet long and 136 feet wide. Half way along the oval on each side there would have been seats of honour for dignitaries with small chambers below where the gladiators, entertainers or animals would have waited to enter the arena.
 
Today, visitors can walk freely around the amphitheatre and imagine what it would have been like in Roman Britain. The site is now used for open air events and re-enactments, so when planning your visit you should find out when events are taking place if you’re interested in attending.
 
The Roman Baths Museum at Caerleon
We know the Romans valued their leisure time from the many Roman baths dotted around the country that provide spa-goers today with the opportunity to luxuriate with or without the stereotypical hanging grapes!
 
The remains displayed at the Roman Baths Museum paint a vivid picture of how the soldiers relaxed and spent their leisure time away from their duties within the fortress walls.
 
A viewing gallery runs the length of the baths, thereby allowing visitors to get very close to the remains and see how big the baths were. They learn about the chambers for hot and cold baths, exercise rooms and open-air swimming pool. Typical of the building skills and opulence of the Romans, they even had heated changing rooms courtesy of underfloor heating.
 
There have been some very interesting finds at the site that visitors can learn about, including gemstones in the drains, an imprint of a foot on a tile and an imprint of a dog’s paw. Structurally the site tells its own story through the display of two sections of lead pipe that were used to bring water to the baths, part of a mosaic of an animal and an exposed early central heating system.
 
The museum uses technology to portray the baths’ former grandeur, giving visitors real insight into the important part the baths played in the soldiers’ downtime.
 
The National Roman Legion Museum
Artefacts from all of the sites can be found in the National Roman Legion Museum. These include the stone coffin found containing the skeleton of a man who died at around 40 years of age. Using forensic technology, a 3D computer model has been made of the skeleton and a painting in Roman style shows how he might have looked.
 
There is a first century wooden tablet on display which was found in a well. Although it’s not complete, the words written in ink can still be identified. Several memorial stones can also be viewed along with silver coins and engraved gemstones with stunning designs of gods and animals. These include the gemstones found in the bath drains as mentioned above.
 
The museum also provides a snapshot of Roman lifestyle with displays of stamps used to mark bread, a third century iron frying pan with a folding handle designed to fit inside a soldier’s pack, and decayed children’s milk teeth. The Roman garden at the museum provides visitors with the sights, sounds and smells of the age, with a range of herbs and flowers used in Roman Britain for medicines and food.
The National Roman Legion Museum has an active events programme throughout the year when visitors can see actors dressed as soldiers in Roman armour, experience Roman cooking, find out about Roman medicine, celebrate Saturnalia or attend the Roman midwinter festival.
 
Visitor information
Parking is available at a pay and display car park next to the museum, and admission to the site is free. Daily opening hours are from 9.30am to 5pm, although from November to February the Sunday hours are 11am to 4pm, and on 24th – 26th December and 1st January the site is closed. An important heads up - there are no public toilets on site!
 
If you do decide to visit Caerleon be sure to let us know what the highlights were for you. We’d love to hear from you!
 
 

August 28 2018 | Garth

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