A Day Out at Canterbury Roman Museum
Canterbury is an endlessly fascinating place. Every time you visit, you’ll find something new that you hadn’t noticed before; some piece of history that brings the past to life and makes the present more understandable. It could be a building, a story, or simply a word that has an ancient meaning. BY LISAMARIE LAMB
It could be the remains of a Roman courtyard house and pavement, as well as a variety of enthralling Roman artefacts. And, if you visit the wonderful Canterbury Roman Museum, that’s exactly what you get – and much more besides.
Canterbury Roman Museum is the only such museum in Kent, which is all the more surprising when you think that Kent is where the Romans first landed on 26th August 55 BC – in Deal, to be precise, and although they were beaten back by the Britons at that time, it took almost another hundred years until they came back stronger and were able to conquer England in AD 43 by landing near Rochester. Luckily for us, the museum at Canterbury is packed full of many different Roman artefacts and information, giving us an insight into what it was like during that time, and of course how Canterbury has changed since.
After being greeted by the friendly staff, you begin your journey back in time by walking down a series of steps (each one representing 100 years); the museum itself is all to be found underground, which makes sense as the Roman streets were much lower than the ones we walk on today. For those with mobility issues, there is a lift too.
The journey through Roman Canterbury begins with an exploration of the marketplace of the time. You’ll find shoemakers, vegetable sellers, street food vendors, even hairdressers. It’s a marvellous start to your time in the museum and it links then and now perfectly; surprisingly, not much has changed in the main.
There are some truly wonderful finds kept safe in this lovely museum, all found when excavating the city over the years. They include Roman pottery, building materials, jewellery, bottles, a silver spoon hoard – which, in particular, look untouched by time and seem so contemporary that it’s hard to imagine Romans using them centuries ago – and, of course, the stunning mosaic floor.
One of the many highlights of a visit to the Canterbury Roman Museum has to be this mosaic floor that was uncovered in 1868 when workmen were digging trenches for a new drainage system. Once the floor was discovered, work was stopped and the mosaic was preserved as it was found. Today, you can find it in the museum and although it is behind a glass wall to keep it safe, this takes nothing away from the experience. This is where Romans trod; it’s where they went about their daily business; it’s is where they planned and dreamed – and it’s possible to stand and stare, lost in the beauty and history of this piece of mosaic flooring for a good long while (which is exactly what we did). It’s a great talking point, and perfect for opening up new ideas and discussions. Did you know, for example, that the Romans were the first to invent underfloor heating? It’s true, and the evidence is right here for all to see.
At the end of a full day out at Canterbury Roman Museum, there is a really fun interactive room for adults and children alike to enjoy. Here’s where you can get properly hands on with Roman exhibits – trying on helmets and armour, working out how to wear a toga, making your own mosaic and trying to identify a variety of different objects including Roman toilet paper (a sea sponge on a stick!) and a notebook made of wax.
A visit to the Canterbury Roman Museum is a must when in the city – you’ll learn an awful lot more than you thought you would.