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10 places where true enthusiast of ancient Rome should go

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman Empire was at its peak in 117 CE, during the reign of Emperor Trajan when it covered an area of 6.5 million square kilometres 1. At that time, the Roman Empire stretched from Britain to Egypt, including what is now there are more than 30 states.

The Roman state existed on the maps of history for over a thousand years. Throughout this time, the Romans spread their culture, leaving many monuments and remnants of their achievements in many places in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. There are countless places that we should see if we are really fascinated by Roman culture. In this article, however, I will try to present places that, in my opinion, are really worth travelling and seeing during your lifetime.

I. Rome, Italy


Surely no one will be surprised that the first place fell on the capital of the once most powerful country in the world. From 753 BCE to CE 286[note id=”2″]the “Eternal City” served as the most important political, social and religious centre of the Roman state. Years of domination by the Empire and the exploitation of the conquered lands and their inhabitants allowed the central authority to build amazing structures that we can admire to this day. If you want to go to Rome and visit most of the ancient monuments, you must certainly book a minimum of several days’ tour. Certainly, the mighty Flavian Amphitheatre cannot escape our attention. The building was built on the initiative of Emperor Vespasian, who came to power through a military coup. Taking over the rule as a Roman from outside the Julio-Claudian dynasty he wanted to win the favour of the Roman people, which was necessary to consolidate the acquired power. The Coliseum arena hosted gladiator fights, staged sea battles, game hunting, fights with wild beasts, and executions. The ingenuity of the Romans to entertain the lowest strata of society knew no bounds. Between 45,000 and 50,000 people could sit in the audience, of which several thousand could still stand[note id=”3″]. The Colosseum proves the engineering genius of the Romans who built such an impressive structure almost 2,000 years ago. The remains of the Forum Romanum cannot escape the attention of the enthusiast of the world of ancient Romans. The Roman forum was once the centre of the political, economic, religious and social life of Rome. A large building complex, which once housed temples, basilicas, arches, and a curia – a meeting place for the Senate; now it is a place where you can largely see only ruins. However, the awareness that a man is staying in this extremely important place at the end of the republic[note id=”4″]is priceless. Another structure that must be “checked off” during the visit is the Pantheon, a temple built in honour of the seven most important Roman deities, topped with a large dome. The dome of the building has a central hole at the top, called the “eye” (oculus) with a diameter of 9 meters, through which the smoke of burnt sacrificial animals once emitted, and which illuminated the interior. The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved buildings from ancient Rome. Of course, one could enumerate individual monuments for hours: the oldest preserved Roman road with roadside catacombs – Via Appia Antica; the oldest “mall” – Trajan’s market; baths of Caracalla, Diocletian; Palantine and palace complex; Trajan’s Column in the Emperor’s Forum; and finally the ancient port of Rome – Ostia Antica, located about 25 km from the centre of Rome. Everything is worth a visit.

II. Stabiae, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Italy


In 79 CE, there was a great cataclysm – the Esuvius eruption – which wiped out the once-prosperous Roman cities of Stabiae, Herculaneum and Pompeii from the ancient map of the world. This event was so terrifying for the contemporaries that it was believed that the reigning emperor Titus had lost the favour of the gods. The aforementioned centres disappeared, “disappearing” under a six-metre-high layer of ashes, which preserved well-preserved monuments and objects of our times. Excavations conducted since the 18th century allowed scientists to explore the world of the Romans on an unprecedented scale. A multitude of artefacts, inscriptions, and even cast shapes of bodies give today’s descendants a chance to go back almost two thousand years into the past. For this purpose, it is worth going to Campania and devoting a few good days to visiting all these places. There is certainly no better place to delve so deeply into the world of the Romans.

III. Pula, Croatia


Croatia is a country where you can find many well-preserved monuments of the ancient Roman world. The proof of this is the city of Pula, located on the Istrian peninsula. This urban centre with over 50,000 inhabitants already had a population of almost 30,000 in the first century BCE. The Romans had their influence in these lands from the beginning of the 2nd century BCE Currently, however, the admired monuments began to be built only in the times of the empire. The hallmark of Pula is the great amphitheatre, which was built in 2 BCE. It is one of the best preserved buildings of this type, which could accommodate about 23,000 spectators. In his arena, gladiatorial and naumachie fights took place. There is also the temple of Augustus and Roma, the forum, the well-preserved Arch of Sergius and the local Roman theatre. Being on the Istrian peninsula, you can also go to the city of Poreč or the Brijuni Islands, where you can also explore the Roman culture.

IV. Jerash, Jordan


Located close to the border with Israel, the city of Jerash is a real gem on the former map of the Roman Empire. Founded in the 4th century BCE, it experienced its “prosperity” under the rule of Emperor Trajan. The number of monuments scattered over a large area means that a tourist who wants to see all the monuments will need at least a day for sightseeing. Sometimes Jerash is referred to as “Pompeii of the Middle East”. Among the monuments, there are two Roman theatres (northern and southern), a complex of Roman baths, a beautifully decorated ancient fountain, a forum, Hadrian’s arch or the temples of Artemis and Zeus. A trip around the city can be combined with a visit to the next place.

V Caesarea, Israel


The beginnings of Roman influence in this area date back to the mid-1st century BCE The resort itself owes its name to Herod the Great, ruler of Judea, who gave it in honour of emperor Octavian Augustus. When we go sightseeing, we should go to the so-called. Caesarea Maritima (Caesarea Maritima), where we will be able to see a number of ancient ruins located in the Caesarea National Park. It was once an important Roman port. In the middle of the 1st century CE, the city was the largest city in Judea, with almost 125,000 inhabitants, where governors of the province resided, among others Ponius Pilate. On-site, we can see the restored large Roman theatre, where the local authorities organize various concerts; the remains of the city walls or the largest Roman hippodrome, where horse races and chariots were held. Tourists who are passionate about diving also have a chance to visit the so-called Underwater Archaeological Park, where you can admire coastal ruins flooded by the Mediterranean Sea. Both Jordan and Israel can be better explored by organizing multi-day trips.

VI. El Jem, Tunisia

Al Jemma

The next place we should go to is the Tunisian city of El Jem. Located in the eastern part of the country, the resort is distinguished by a beautiful amphitheatre. It is – along with the Colosseum and the amphitheatre in Pula – the best preserved Roman building of this type. This structure was built at the beginning of the 3rd century CE, probably at the request of Emperor Gordian I. The amphitheatre is the smallest building among its counterparts in Rome and Pula. Other sights to see include Roman villas and the remains of a smaller amphitheatre. Being already in Tunisia, it is also worth taking a 200 km trip to the former capital of Carthage (present Tunis) to see many monuments there – not only Roman ones. The whole tour can be combined during one tour to Tunisia.

VII. Conimbriga, Portugal


We go to the Iberian Peninsula, where we visit one of the largest Roman centres in Portugal – Conimbriga. The city fell under the influence of the Romans in the middle of the 1st century BCE. The gradual Romanization of the centre meant that earlier structures began to be replaced with typically Roman buildings. In this “archaeological park” we can see ruins of a forum, basilica, shops, aqueduct or Roman baths typical of Roman cities. A large influx of settlers from Italy meant that numerous ruins of the insula have been preserved to our times. During the reign of Vespasian, Conímbriga was granted the status of a municipium, which allowed it to enjoy partial autonomy. At the end of the 1st century CE, the city had about 10,000 inhabitants. This once prosperous place was surrounded by a 1.5 km long stone wall. The resort is particularly distinguished by the rich villas of the Roman aristocracy, which have beautiful mosaics showing geometric shapes. In Portugal itself, you can find many Roman monuments and remnants of their culture – therefore encouraged to visit.

VIII. Mérida, Spain


Merida, or rather Emerita Augusta, was once one of the most important Roman cities. It was located in an extremely strategic place and was one of the ends of the “Silver Road”, the other end of which was the gold mines. Such a favourable location guaranteed the city a constant flow of wealth and favourable development. All this meant that Merida became the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania. The city has an extraordinary educational value because it is here that most of the Roman monuments from all over Spain have been preserved. In the city we can see the temple of Diana; two still active water reservoirs; an amphitheatre that once could seat about 16,000 spectators; a beautiful theatre founded on the initiative of Agrippa; aqueduct remains; forum; the best-preserved Roman circus; numerous villas or the still used stone bridge Puente Romano. The list of Merida’s monuments is practically endless, especially if we take into account Arab and Christian monuments. This proves how interesting Emerita Augusta is located in the central part of the Iberian Peninsula.

IX. Arles, France


Arles – a city located on the Mediterranean Sea – was one of the largest coastal cities of Narbonne Gaul. It was in Roman possession in 123 BCE, and in 104 a special navigable canal was built that connected it to the sea. Arles gained importance especially after Caesar’s civil war with Pompey (mid-1st century BCE), when it supported Caesar in the conflict. As a token of gratitude, he granted the city numerous goods from plundered Messalia6. Arles has entered a long period of development. During the empire, numerous public buildings were built in the city. To this day, we can admire the well-preserved amphitheatre, triumphal arch, theatre, circus and city walls. Over time, the city gained the rank of an important part of the Empire. Outside the city, we can go to Fontvieille, where we can see the largest “complex of mechanical power” of the ancient world – an aqueduct that supplied water, which was then used to drive a great mill Roman. In order to see these monuments and visit the south of France, it is worth taking a longer trip.

X England

Hadrian's Wall

Britain was conquered by the Romans in 43 CE and then became a Roman province. A previously unknown and mysterious island aroused fear among the Romans. However, the gradual Romanization and conquest of more lands allowed the Romans to adapt to the new, colder climate. For almost 400 years of their presence in Britain, the Romans built great, magnificent public buildings. England is a country where you can see Roman ruins or make an extraordinary discovery at almost every turn5. One of the most beautiful places is the wonderful baths in Bath, which now houses the Roman Baths Museum. Visiting this place will allow you to realize how developed the Roman civilization was and how durable their buildings were. Britain is primarily numerous buildings erected for defensive purposes: military camps (e.g. Vindolanda, Concangis, Cilurnum, Carrawbugh, Bremenium and many others), defensive walls (Hadriana, Antoninus), bridges; in addition, numerous villas and preserved roads. Cheshire (western England) is home to the largest discovered amphitheatre in Britain. All this means that the island cannot remain unnoticed by a lover of Roman history.

  1. Steele Christy, Rome, 2001 s. 36.
  2. Diocletian then moved the capital to Medionalum (now Milan).
  3. Certainly, the facility could accommodate well over 50,000 people.
  4. Its splendor was dimmed only by the construction of the Augustan Forum and the entire complex of imperial forums.
  5. It is in England that we hear most often about further discoveries.
  6. Messalia supported Pompey for a change.

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