Discovering Roman Britain

I was introduced to Roman Britain quite unexpectedly on a cold, windy day in October 2008 in London. I had been in London for about 3 weeks then and was already head over heels in love with this beautiful city. Each day was a new day of exploration and between settling into a new city and classes at the university, there was always something wonderful to discover and delight over.

That afternoon, I took a path leading off from Tower Bridge Tube station, a path that led me past a hotel and then, quite suddenly into a walled dead-end. I was about to turn back, when I saw an information board there and walked over to read it. Good thing I did that as this turned out to be the most interesting dead-end !

Part of the original wall surrounding the Roman city of Londinium or London

Part of the original wall surrounding the Roman city of Londinium or London

The information board announced that this was no ordinary wall, but a slice of London’s history. Built by the Romans in 190–220 AD, this wall used to run around the city of Londinium, the Roman name for London. About 9 ft thick at the base and about 20 ft. in height, it was one of the most important and expensive developments in the city at that time. (By medieval times, the height of the wall was increased and though it is not evident in the photograph, the colour of the mortar distinguishes the two sections of the wall.)

My first reaction was, “Wow! So Asterix and Obelix wasn’t an exaggeration; the Romans were really here. Dear old Julius Caesar was really here !” For the rest of the day, I walked around in a kind of daze as the Roman fever took hold. It was a fever that refused to go away and one that I had great pleasure in indulging when I visited erstwhile Roman cities in the UK and explored a part of history that I thought only existed in comic books ! :-)

So join me on my journey of discovering Roman Britain through visits to Camulodunum (present day Colchester), Aquae Sulis (present day Bath), and Verulamium (present day St. Albans) in England. (Strangely, the wall remained my only encounter with Roman Britain in London.) It was a journey that left me breathless, awestruck, and delighted in turn, but always richer in having gained knowledge of something new, and of having discovered a whole new world.

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On the peacock trail from Mayilapuram to Mylapore

I gaped at the Roman merchant as he passed me by in a parrot green silk toga with a  golden border. And then gaped some more as two more Roman merchants, in bright blue silk togas with flowery motifs, strolled past me in the marketplace. Romans in Mylapore? And that too in colourful silk togas?

“Sudha…Hey, Sudha? Are you listening? Where have you gone off?” a voice broke into my rambling, and rather colourful, imagination.

“Sorry, Akila,” I replied a little bit sheepishly. “Your mention of Mylapore’s Roman connection triggered off some time travel. The idea of Romans in colourful silk togas was too delicious to resist.”

It is a quarter to eight in the morning and I am standing outside the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai. I am there to explore and experience the many layers of Mylapore through the Peacock Trail, a walk conducted by Storytrails, an organisation that promises to give “a glimpse into the local way of life, using… stories as the medium”.

Akila is my storyteller and guide for this trail, and her narration of Mylapore’s rich past is so vivid and detailed that my journey of exploration through this ancient place is an unforgettable experience. And one that I hope you will also be able to undertake with me as I relive that experience through this post. :-)

The main gopuram of the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai, can be seen rising up in the background

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