OK. This Roman ruin has very little left of it compared to the smaller-than-Colosseum structures in Arles, France or Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Those at least are complete; this one would require almost complete reconstruction and the removal of the entire Guildhall complex. Ain’t gonna happen. What we do have are the underground remains of an arena in the lower level of the Guildhall Art Gallery within the boundaries of the City of London. Really just parts of the foundation and plumbing and a lot of sand. Some remnants are stone, others are wood beams displayed under floor-mounted glass. Old, though. Very, very old. First century AD-type old. And there’s no admission charge.
Interestingly, if you didn’t know where you were headed, you might think that the 15th century stone Guildhall Great Hall would be the place to go. Not so. This Roman formation was only recently discovered (1985) while the art gallery was being worked on; it’s completely counter-intuitive to look for Roman ruins under the most modern building in the square. The Great Hall functions as town hall for the City of London, so a constant dribble of tourists going in and out just to look at the ruins would complicate the decorum in the Hall for those going there to conduct business, assuming we’d be allowed in at all.
Computer projections helpfully reproduce the ancient seating areas; the ceiling is quite low when you come down to it (pun intended) but even with these visual aids, it’s difficult to imagine the expanse of the place when you consider that there was room for 7000 spectators. The link at the start of this para has the full width photo I thought I’d taken. It’s sooo frustrating when my brain remembers things that didn’t even happen! The ruins are a tiny fragment of the original structure. Sadly, my visit was so close to closing time there was no time to explore anything else in the gallery’s collection/s. Perhaps next time.
To get a better feel for the size of the place, go back outside to street level and look for a curved line on the pavement of the Guildhall courtyard. This is incomplete as well but gives a much better indication of the size of the amphitheatre. I’m assuming the entire extent of the amphitheatre’s foundations may never be exposed… not likely to get permission to go rummaging around underneath the Guildhall premises.
I wish had gotten a photo of this black outline but when I visited it was after dark on a damp December night and the circle runs so close to the buildings it was impossible to make out on the slick, wet pavement at night.
The church of St Lawrence Jewry occupies the southern side of the Guildhall complex – below left of the circle in the Google Earth photo. I’ve added this photo simply because I liked the lighted tree in front and also because, depending on which direction you’re coming from, it’s likely you’ll come upon this church before you curl left around it and see the Guildhall. A good landmark to keep from missing the spot.
One sheepish note on the photo below – I must have been feeling the damp chill more than I thought, given the blur I managed to add to the photo before clicking the button. Nothing like a smudgy photo to prove this is a strictly amateur travel blog, eh? For those of us who didn’t know there were things like these, it’s a post marking the boundary of the City of London within the larger metro area more commonly called simply “London”. Note the City’s coat of arms near the bottom of the bollard.