Xanten: amazing reconstructions in an excellent open air museum

I found the archaeological park in Xanten to be one of the most impressive museums dedicated to the Romans that I’ve ever seen. It is a huge, sprawling cornucopia of educative delights and interesting finds. The people who have dedicated their lives to it have been creative, but have also been meticulously faithful to the original intentions and feel of the buildings of the site, known in Roman times as Colonia Ulpia Traiana.

The first thing you see when you go in is the amphitheatre, which sets the scene – it is partially reconstructed, a quarter of it towering to its original height, all of the arena intact with real sand (the only time I have seen this – sand is the derivation of the word arena after all – from Greek harena).  The rest your mind fills in.Next is a reconstructed corner of the town walls, from which you can look down on the amphitheatre. It is very like the reconstructions of Hadrian’s Wall I saw when I was there.

There are town gates dotted along the wall, which is represented by a hedge where it is not reconstructed, and then there’s the Roman Guest House, lovingly brought back to life, with a real restaurant now serving authentic Roman cuisine (and also tomato pizza for the kids!)

Next is the Harbour Temple – a great reconstruction and a good example of a rare time when people finding a temple haven’t just ascribed a god to it almost randomly and then discovered later it was inaccurate but had to continue calling it the “Temple of Diana” or whatever just to avoid confusing tourists.

There’s a reconstructed mill and oven, an area with reconstructed roads and transport, walls and such like, an impressive bath house with real running water, and I haven’t even mentioned the museum yet, which has great displays well presented and explained, including a Roman wooden boat and loads of other things.

As you can probably tell, I like Xanten. It comes highly recommended.


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