Wroxeter Old Work
The invisible city under the fields
Tucked away on the back road between Shrewsbury and Ironbridge stands one of the most important Roman remains in Britain - the ancient city of Viroconium.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman army founded a settlement that thrived for almost 500 years. They called it Viroconium.
Today it's better known by the name of the village that occupies a small corner of the Roman city: Wroxeter.
Section of wall in the Roman baths at Wroxeter
Visitors to the site today can see only a fraction of this once great city. The vast majority - some 78 hectares - is still underground and waiting to be explored.
Wroxeter was the capital of the British tribe called the Cornovii and is the largest ancient city in Britain to have survived intact.
This is because most of the Roman cities - Chester and London, for example - continued to be developed after the end of the Roman occupation. At Wroxeter the city slowly fell into disrepair and its medieval and modern successor, Shrewsbury, was established on a brand new site.
Wroxeter's site, which was originally a Roman outpost on the edge of the empire, was well-chosen, occupying a plateau close to the Severn with a good all-round view.
Remains of the Roman heating system in Wroxeter
The main area to be seen today are the Roman baths, which were excavated between 1955 and 1990. This part of the city served as a sort of leisure centre for the 6,000 people who lived here, and includes The Old Work, one of the largest sections of Roman wall surviving in the UK.
When the Roman occupation ended in 410AD, Viroconium didn't disappear straight away, and neither did it meet an abrupt and violent end as historians once thought. Instead it gradually fell out of use and the stone, much of which came from Grinshill in north Shropshire, was used again for other buildings.
Roman relics are everywhere in the modern village of Wroxeter, and stone from the ancient city was used to build the church at Atcham.
The Roman site at Wroxeter is now maintained by English Heritage and is open to visitors from February to November. As well as the Roman remains, enthusiasts can enjoy a museum and an audio guided tour.
last updated: 06/03/2008 at 17:49