Northumberland is a place of peace and solitude, where many people in the United Kingdom go trekking to find an escape from their busy lives among the endless scenery.
Aside from the natural beauty, Northumberland is also a land of history. It hosts some of the best preserved landmarks from Roman occupation of Britain, including the famous Hadrian's Wall. Though the wall also runs through Cumbria, the sections within Northumberland are the best preserved. This, along with the perfectly preserved ruins of Roman forts, Roman museums and Roman towns, makes Northumberland a premiere location for historical tourism.
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Hadrian's Wall stretches 117.5 kilometres, cutting the country in half from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. The wall was constructed in 122 AD at the command of Emperor Caesar Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, or Hadrian for short. There were several forts north of the area before the wall was built, but they were subject to frequent abuse by the warlike Pict people and other native tribes that vied for the region. As the Roman Empire was vast and beginning to crumble under the strain of upkeep, not enough soldiers could be deployed to subdue the Picts. Thus, the Romans retreated behind the wall to man the forts that were built in an effort to preserve the empire.
Today, the wall is hardly in its former glory, as the native tribes saw fit to abuse it after the Romans slowly withdrew from Britain in the 5th century. However, much of these ancient stones and the small forts built into the wall remain. Every year, millions of visitors go to Hadrian's Wall and walk along its border via the Hadrian's Wall Path that traces the ruins of the wall for much of the hike.
Chesters Roman Fort
The Roman fort of Chesters, or as it was previously named, Cilurnum, was built in the early 2nd century to guard one of the most important points along Hadrian's Wall - the section where the fort crossed the River Tyne.
As the wall passed over water, it was vulnerable to attack by northern tribes. Many of the buildings of the fort are still fairly well intact, which makes it easy for visitors to get a feel for how Chesters was laid out in its heyday. Among one of its most unique features is the ancient public bath house in which soldiers and other residents would gather to take hot, cold or steam baths that were akin to modern day saunas.
Like most of the other forts along the wall, Chesters comes with its own museum to host the Roman artifacts that have been excavated within the area. One of the most fascinating objects on display on the museum is Coventina's Eagle. This is the remains from a shrine to an unknown Roman goddess that was uncovered along Hadrian's Wall 150 year ago near Chesters. The shrine included a number of bronze coins, but some of these coins were melted down and molded into an eagle, a popular symbol of Rome.
Corbridge, or ‘Coria’ as it was known in Roman times, was the largest Roman town located this far north. It was essential to Roman campaigns and the occupation of the area as it served as a supply base.
Today, the modern town of Corbridge is just a quaint little village in the shadow of the larger modern towns in the area. However, today’s town was not built over the remains of the Roman Empire - it instead preserved them.
Ancient Corbridge sits astride the intersection of the old Roman roads of Dere Street and Stanegate, and it was originally meant to be the site of a series of important forts. However, after Hadrian's Wall was commissioned and completed, it instead grew into a prosperous town.
Visitors to the area can wander the remains and ruins of ancient Roman buildings that still exist there today. Buildings like granaries, fountain houses and a large courtyard building are all open to the public. Many of the items that have been excavated in the area can be found back in the modern town of Corbridge, housed in the Corbridge Roman Town Museum.
Carrawburgh and the Temple of Mithras
Carrawburgh was an auxiliary fort along Hadrian's Wall originally called Brocolitia. All that remains of Carrawburgh now are ruins and stone foundations of the settlement that once stood there. As such, many Roman history tourists often skip this fort, but there is something of interest among these ruins: the Temple of Mithras.
This temple was built by a cult in order to worship the Sun God Mithras. While most Romans kept with the old gods of the Roman Empire, Mithras became increasingly popular among soldiers not just in Northumberland, but all around the Roman Empire. It is thought that this religion may have been a rival of early Christianity.
These temples to Mithras were built underground and soldiers had to undergo seven rites of initiation in order to join. Mithras is often depicted as being born from a rock, slaughtering a bull and sharing it with Sol (the sun). Since these temples were built into the earth, the one in Carrawburgh is among one of the best preserved ruins in the area.
Housesteads Roman Fort
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The Housesteads Fort, or ‘Vercovicium’ as it was then called, is among the best preserved of the 13 forts that sit astride Hadrian's Wall. This fort was built on an imposing ridge and housed more than 800 soldiers at any given time. Visitors can stroll through the barracks, the hospital and latrines to experience what life was like for the soldiers some 2,000 years ago.