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Brading Roman Villa

Before I left for the Isle of Wight, my father sent me a cutting from his history magazine which he knew I’d find interesting. I hadn’t even heard of Brading Roman Villa before, but I looked it up and it was an easily-manageable day trip from where I was staying.

Too good to be true?

Too good to be true?

I got a bus from the end of the road into Ryde, and then caught a train to Brading. That in itself was quite an experience – the Island Line is a short length of mostly single-track electrified railway line between Ryde and Shanklin. The tunnel outside Ryde has too low a roof to allow standard trains to fit through, so the rolling stock is made up of super-annuated tube trains from the London Underground which should really have been retired decades ago!

From the┬ástation it was a short walk along the side of the track and through a housing estate to reach the villa, which was protected from the weather by a modern building housing a giftshop and a cafe. The mosaics were good, but in my opinion nowhere near as good as promised in the advert – they certainly weren’t amongst the best in Europe. I’ve seen far better in Sicily and mainland Italy, for a start. I think it would be fairer to say that they were “among the best-preserved mosaics displayed in-situ north of the Alps”, but that probably wouldn’t bring in as many punters.

The cock-headed man

The cock-headed man

Nevertheless, the villa and mosaics were well worth the visit. The meaning of this one of a “cock-headed man” has got lost in the mists of time, but clearly was relevant to the owner in the late third century AD.

The Medusa mosaic at Brading

The Medusa mosaic at Brading

This room-sized mosaic of Medusa gives a feeling for how luxuriously-decorated the villa was. Unfortunately, the colours of the tesserae are heavily faded, partly due to salt-encrustation from flooding off the nearby fields. The ground-surface has raised by several feet over the last 2000 years, so the surrounding fields are now well above the Roman floor level, and contaminated run-off from the fields has badly damaged the mosaics, leading to fading and subsidence. Hopefully, some recent flood-prevention work should stop the situation from getting worse.

All together, it was a very interesting and enjoyable visit, even if I thought the original advert overplayed its hand!