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Fishbourne Palace

Visited August 2012

Location Near Chichester, West Sussex
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby Yes- Fishbourne
Parking Yes
Facilities Toilets, Cafe, Gift Shop


Not a castle but a Roman palace , the remains of a luxury pad of a native king, rewarded for his loyalty to Rome during the Roman occupation of Britain.






If anyone is as ancient as me you may remember the Cambridge Latin Course from your school days. If you actually made it onto the second series of books, the stories where based around the real-life King Cogidubnus, who was an actual first century Celtic king who supported the Romans when they invaded Britain. He would have been rewarded handsomely for this loyalty, and so it is thought that the lavish palace at Fishbourne was his residence.  


The site as it is today has been partially excavated- some of it still lies under the modern housing to the east, some of it was destroyed when the nearby railway line was laid. Most of what remains is the north wing of the original palace, and it has been covered over with a roof to protect from further weather damage (which also makes the palace a good rainy-day excursion).


Inside the foyer is an exhibition showing the history of the site, with some hands-on activities for children- a Roman gods puzzle, build a brick arch, weave a piece of cloth. It was busy when we went so there was a bit of waiting while the children in front of us completed the activity and moved on. It was an enjoyable start to the visit for the children, and engaged their interest from the beginning.









Once into the area of the actual palace, the first thing to see is the hypocaust system- a Roman system of under floor heating. This one was started in around 270AD but never used, as the building was abandoned before it was completed.


The raised walkways take you round the palace as it was laid out originally, past several mosaic floors until you reach the dolphin mosaic- almost perfect in its state of preservation, it was laid in about 160AD, over the top of the original black and white geometric mosaic, which has in turn been re-laid in another part of the palace . The dolphin floor was lifted and the original mosaic retrieved, so now both are able to be viewed. Clever stuff.


Also on display is the skeleton of a man, found buried at the palace. It is thought he was buried at the site several hundred years after the palace was abandoned. The building was probably long gone and the foundations buried in soil and returned to nature on the top. The people burying him probably had no idea that anything was below.  The land was then farmed for hundreds of years with no one realising what was underneath- one of the mosaic floors even has grooves from a plough running across it. The whole palace was lost until the 1960's when workmen laying a water pipe found some remains and called in the archaeologists.





Outside of the building is a reconstructed garden, based on the layout of the original bedding trenches and re-planted with box hedging, which was a popular plant at the time. There are references to box hedges in the writings of Pliny, a contemporary of Cogidubnus.


The garden also contains fruit trees, lavender bushes, grape vines and a herb garden, all containing varieties which would have been around at the time the palace was in use. There is also a triclinium, an outside dining area which would have been used in the summer months for those sumptuous Roman banquets.


On the day of our visit there were hobby horse races and a display of roman toys in the garden , which were quite fun. Inside there were ancient craft activities such as making mosaic postcards and braid weaving. There were various activities organised for the whole of the summer holidays, so there is plenty for  children to do if they get bored of looking at mosaics.


There is a reasonably-priced gift shop in the palace building, with cafe & toilets next door. There is a lot of green space next to the cafe for children to enjoy a bit of a run around, with benches for the adults!









More info:  Fishbourne Palace

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