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A few days exploring Roman York

After the very long and tiring “final quarter” of the financial year, I was badly in need of a holiday. But preferably not one that would be too exhausting. So I booked myself a few days away in York. I last went there about two years ago on business, and had just half a day free for sightseeing. That made me think that I really ought to return and see the sights at a slightly more relaxed pace.

Multiangular tower, York

This time, I had two full days in the city, and despite some really dreadful weather on the first day, I was keen to see as much of the Roman remains from the original settlement of Eboracum as I could.  Fortunately the weather on the second day was much better. York was originally a legionary fortress, and the city walls still follow much of the path of the Roman original. The picture above is of one of the original Roman defensive towers, at a corner of the fortress. The arrow-loops are medieval, but the stonework up to and including the brick courses is Roman. It’s one of the few bits of Roman York still visible at the surface – most of the rest is buried a few metres below ground, underneath the medieval and Viking settlements.

York Minster is a lovely building with some beautiful medieval stained glass windows, though the compulsory £10 entrance fee is decidedly steep. However, this does at least include access to the Undercroft, which was excavated in the late ’60s and early 70’s as part of a major underpinning exercise to stop the cathedral from collapsing due to inadequate and sinking foundations. It turned out that the reason the central tower was leaning at a dangerous angle was because half of it was resting on the remains of the Roman Principia, or legionary HQ building, whilst the other half was resting basically on mud. The underpinning gave an opportunity to excavate parts of the Roman HQ, and it’s now accessible underneath the main crossing of the cathedral.  Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor in York, quite possibly at the Principia. He was the first Christian emperor, something the cathedral displays made much of.

Roman military bathhouse under a pub

One other remnant of the Roman city can be found in the basement of a pub a few minutes walk from the Minster. It’s the partial remains of the military bath house, found in 1929 in the aftermath of a major fire in the pub. You can see in my somewhat blurry photo the remains of the hypocaust, or heating system, underneath the hot room or Calderium. The pub used to be called “The Mail Coach Inn”, but is now rather unimaginatively called “The Roman Bath” – though at least that does give one an indication of what to expect!