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the Roman gate of Brittany

by godlove4241
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When a newly constructed walkway and tower, built using evidence of 2,000-year-old wooden post holes, opens to visitors on April 19, it will help make sense of a puzzling Roman site: the “port” of Richborough in Kent, a gateway to the island from the Roman invasion of Britain, which now lies more than two miles inland.

The gate and tower, reconstructed from foundations discovered in recent excavations, will help explain why the Romans chose the site, now in English heritage custody, as a base for the 43 AD invasion. The fort grew into a thriving trading town, complete with an amphitheater and marble-clad triumphal arch, but the only remnants today are imposing stretches of walls encircling green bumps and humps in the fields. The site was gradually abandoned as the sea canals silted up, and was never rebuilt. Sharp-eyed passengers on the trains that line the fort can see a huge piece of Roman wall, which has crumbled and slid down the bank into the river.

The view from the top of the gate tower reveals a flat landscape still patched with ditches and streams. It looks like an unpromising site for an invasion, but when the Roman galleys arrived in AD 43 the River Wantsum was navigable for ships to Richborough Island. There a shallow gravel shore provided a safe landing spot, protected from the infamous shoals and sandbars off Ramsgate, known as the ‘ship swallower’ and still dotted with thousands of wrecks. The high, windy ridge of the islet provided a commanding view of the surrounding area, with enough land to establish a fort that became a thriving trading port. From Richborough their ships could reach the Thames at Reculver. Walkers could also push far inland: visitors can still exit through a breach in the walls onto a farm track that marks the start of Watling Street, one of the most famous Roman roads that once led north through London and St Albans and on to the Roman City at Wroxeter.

Archaeologists found the foundations of the wooden gate and tower in 2021, and the eight-meter tall reconstruction, built of oak using Roman woodworking techniques and handmade nails, is based on that depicted on Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheater in Kent, England Pictured: Jim Holden. Courtesy of English Heritage

Paul Pattison, Senior Estates Historian at English Heritage, called the reconstruction remarkable: “The Roman invasion was a major milestone in our history. We know that Richborough witnessed over 360 years of Roman rule – from the very beginning to the bitter end – but to stand atop this eight meter high gate, gaze and imagine what the early Romans might have been seeing, is quite an experience.

Since its first excavation in the 1920s, the site has yielded some of the richest finds of any Roman site in Britain, including 56,000 coins, 460 brooches and over 1,000 hairpins. The site museum will display recent finds for the first time, including a glass cup made in the Middle East testifying to luxury imports across the city, hairpins including one in gold and a raw local copy, and a weighing scale in the shape of Harpocrates, the god of silence – a unique example in Britain.

Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheater and the newly constructed walkway opened April 19

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