It is the oldest and most prosperous part of London. Walking down streets lined with white concrete-slab buildings, you’re likely to pass men in Armani suits and women in Louboutins. It’s the home of investment banks and the London Stock Exchange, and recently the Occupy London movement. It is also where I work Monday to Friday.
But it wasn’t always the financial district.
Back in 43 AD, this area constituted Londinium, the largest settlement in Roman-owned Britannia.
Londinium stretched about one square mile and had 20,000 to 30,000 residents.
Anyone who has seen Russell Crowe in Gladiator knows the Romans loved a fight. In fact, their main form of entertainment were massive clashes to death between pairs of slaves or slaves and wild animals.
The most famous building that housed these matches was, of course, the Coliseum in Rome, but the Romans built these massive arenas (or ampitheatres) everywhere they went.
Builders discovered London’s Ampitheatre in 1988, after being buried under the city for almost 2,000 years. At the time, they were digging a foundation for a new gallery to house the art collection at Guildhall.
So, the gallery incorporated the remains in its building.
I went to check it out on Saturday and it was pretty cool. The foundation stretchs about 20 metres and most of the entrance-way is preserved. There is also the remains of part of the original drainage system. The gallery does a good job of giving you the history of the structure and tries to recreate the feeling of the gladiator fights.
I really appreciated that the foundation is not hidden behind glass or cordoned off in any way. There simply a sign advising visitors not to touch. I found that type of trust really refreshing.
Best of all, admission to the Guildhall Art Gallery (and subterranean ampitheatre) is completely FREE.
Guildhall is about a five-minute walk from both St. Paul’s Station (Central line) or Mansion House Station (District line).