The best preserved Roman walls in Britain, a major civilian settlement, and a site that hardly anyone seems to know about. This is Caerwent Roman Town, just 16 km from the legionary fortress of Caerleon in southern Wales. A site that is easy to explore, but curiously neglected by visitors.
The Roman Town of Venta Silurum
Caerwent, or Venta Silurum as it was known to the Romans, is one of Wales’s best kept secrets. The largest civilian settlement in Wales, it was built, not for the Romans themselves, but for the Silurians, a native tribe who adopted Roman customs and lifestyle.
Where tribes were co-operating with their conquerors it was a win-win situation for the Romans to establish civilian towns for the local populace. It encouraged romanisation of the inhabitants, and reduced the administrative burden of governing the region.
Venta Silurum (venta means “market town”) was established around 75 CE on the main road from Caerleon to Gloucester. As was usual for a Roman town, it was based upon a grid design. The settlement was bisected by a straight central street and surrounded by a square wall. Within the walls were houses, shops, and public buildings including a temple and a marketplace.
Exploring Caerwent Roman Town
Caerwent is small and you could easily explore all of the Roman remains in an hour or two. A suggested route (see picture below) has detailed information boards at each point.
Note that much of the site is unexcavated, lying beneath fields or later buildings. This means that many of the houses, and public areas such as the baths, are not visible today.
Roman Shops And Courtyard House
A footpath from the main car park by the West Gate takes you to the remains of a small group of shops and houses. Nearby is the “Courtyard House”, a substantial dwelling. Archaeological evidence shows that it would have had several rooms around two courtyards, with mosaic floors and underfloor heating.
Temple And Forum
Walk along the main street and you’ll come to the Romano-Celtic temple. This is a standard temple design, built around 330 CE, but no-one is certain which deity would have been worshipped here.
Behind the temple is the Forum-Basilica area. This would have been the town centre, with shops and bars clustered around the open marketplace. The basilica was a massive hall used for events and public meetings.
The Caerwent town walls are considered to be the best preserved Roman walls in Britain. Built at the beginning of the 4th century, they replaced an earlier earth and timber rampart, and formed a complete circuit with towers and four entrance gates.
Today you can follow a path on top of the southern section of the walls, walking clockwise from the East Gate to the West Gate (the walls to the north are less complete and not always accessible). You’ll see information boards as you go: don’t forget to come down to ground level occasionally to see how the walls looked from outside the town.
How To Visit Caerwent Roman Town
- There is a large free car park by the West Gate.
- The Roman remains are managed by CADW but are free to visit.
- Note that the walls are not accessible to wheelchairs and may be unsuitable for anyone with mobility problems.
- Facilities for visitors are limited, but food and drink are available in the Coach & Horses Inn.
- If you have spare time in Caerwent the 13th century Church of St Stephen & St Tathan is supposed to be worth exploring (it was closed for renovation when I was there, but should be reopening later in 2023). Alternatively, you could combine your trip with a visit to the fortress town of Caerleon.