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Caerleon Castle and Roman Ruins

Visited July 2022

Location Caerleon, Monmouthshire
Entrance Fee Yes- to Roman Baths only
Railway Station Nearby No
Parking Yes 
Facilities In town
Map

 

 

Modern day Caerleon stands on the site of the Roman legionary fortress of Isca, one of three permanent legionary bases in Roman Britain. A long time after the Romans left, the Norman's built a castle, which in turn was all but demolished and the stone re-used to build the town. What remains today is an  interesting mix of sites from different eras interspersed across the town.  

 


 

 


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The remains of the Norman castle today consist of one small tower from the original gatehouse, which is down by the river incorporated into the walls of the Hanbury Arms pub. There are also the remains of the original motte, but this stands on private property. The motte was built in about 1085, and originally had a wooden tower on the top. A twin-towered stone gatehouse was later added, this is single tower is the sole survivor, although the whole site would have also been surrounded by defensive walls with towers along the perimeter.

 

The castle was attacked by the Welsh on several occasions, but eventually fell into disrepair, and was demolished to provide building materials for the houses in the town of Caerleon, many of which still stand today.

 

The irony of this is that the castle itself had originally been built from stone robbed from the Roman fortress which existed there prior to the Norman invasion. 

 

 

 


 

 


 

The Romans came to Caerleon in AD 75 and established a garrison fort here, the outline of which can still be seen today. This fort was the home of the second Legion of Augustus, and contained barracks for the soldiers, bath buildings for both military personnel and civilians,  and a large amphitheatre, the remains of all which can be visited . 

 

The remains of the barracks have very little walling , but it is easy to see the original layout of the small rooms which housed eight soldiers in each, plus the remains of ovens, workshops, store rooms and the toilet block; a communal building which is explained in detail on the information board at the site. 

 


 

 


 

Just past the barracks is the roman amphitheatre, a beautifully preserved example of its type. When Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his Histories of the Kings of Briton in 1136 he stated that the amphitheatre was in fact the round table in the legend of Arthur, and Caerleon became associated with Camelot because of this. 

 

Back in the Roman times though it was used by both the legionaries and also civilians living in the fortress for both military and gladiator shows. Trained gladiators were expensive to hire, so mostly the entertainment at Caerleon would have been provided by condemned prisoners put into the ring with animals such as wild boars, wolves and bulls. 

 

The games were open to all citizens, and as a board at the site explains, women were seated at the back in case the masculine display corrupted their morals!

 

The amphitheatre had a special shrine dedicated to the goddess Nemesis, who the president would appeal to when making his decisions about the fate of the gladiators. 

 

The site today is grassy and pleasant, and popular with school groups. 

 

In the centre of the town is the Baths complex, which despite being 2000 years old has been fitted with modern projection equipment to replicate water and swimmers in the pool. You can walk all around the perimeter of the pool, viewing it from above. There are  information boards and exhibits on display around the side of the pool, including the example of a sponge of on a stick which the Romans used instead of toilet paper; this seems to be a firm favourite with children!

 

There is the Roman Legion Museum next door to the baths with interesting finds from the excavations, and a recreated Roman garden outside. The town is very easy to orientate with good signage, and everything is within walking distance. There are plenty of cafes and pubs available for a pit stop if required, or the amphitheatre area is suitable for picnics. 

 


 

 


 

More info:  CADW Caerleon Fortress

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