Fishbourne Roman Palace and Chichester – July 2016

, CADHAS Member

Chichester CathedralOn Tuesday, 12th July 2016, we visited Chichester (Noviomagus Reginorum) and Fishbourne Roman Palace in a mixture of sunshine and showers with two hours to explore the city and have lunch. The coach stopped beside the Cathedral, so that was most people’s first port of call. Founded in the 11th century, it is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and contains a shrine to St Richard of Chichester. In the south aisle it is possible to see the remains of a Roman mosaic pavement through a glass floor panel. The spire, originally made of weak local stone collapsed and was rebuilt in the 19th century. The Bishop’s Garden nearby was delightful. Other places of interest included the Market Cross built in 1501 as a covered market-place, (a type of Buttercross familiar to old market towns) , Pallant House Gallery, which has a major collection of chiefly modern British art and the Novium museum. At various places round the city it is possible to walk along the city walls. In Priory Park is the 13th century Guildhall, still in use for various functions.

After lunch we boarded the coach for the short trip to the magnificent Fishbourne Roman Palace. There we watched an explanatory video about the site, about its first discovery in 1960, its then being covered over and protected, and excavation over a 10-year period by the archaeologist Barry Cunliffe.

Our excellent guide then explained via a scale model, the various buildings that had existed on the site, then led us around showing us the marvellous mosaic floors including the superb ‘Cupid on a Dolphin’ and the remains of a hypocaust under-floor heating system. She explained that the place is an enigma, no one knows what it was called in Roman times and its occupants are uncertain. It was long thought to be Cogidubnus, chieftain of the local tribe of the Atrebates, but doubt has more recently been cast on that theory – the palace would have been a pretty enormous reward for co-operating with the Roman invaders! It is thought that, in addition to being the dwelling-place of the owner, his extended family and large numbers of slaves, it was also a huge administrative centre.

Fishbourne Palace Floor Excavation
Fishbourne Palace Floor Excavation

Fishbourne Palace Floor Mosaic Detail
Fishbourne Palace Floor Mosaic Detail

Fishbourne Palace Floor Mosaic Detail
Fishbourne Palace Floor Mosaic Detail

Fishbourne Palace Floor Mosaic Detail
Fishbourne Palace Floor Mosaic Detail

The present site covers about 10 acres, but there is thought to be several times as much again, now inaccessible as it is covered by a housing estate. The gardens are extensive and have been re-planted with authentic plants from the Roman period, such as acanthus and box. One outbuilding houses very life-like model of a Roman gardener and a recorded voice tells you about his work and how he lived. Part of the palace was destroyed by fire c. 270 AD, following which the remainder was abandoned, eventually dismantled and the stones ‘robbed’ for use in other buildings.

At 4.30pm after a cup of tea and a cake in the cafe, we boarded the coach for home, and speaking for myself, exhausted but happy after a most enjoyable day!