Beyond the empire: the best Roman sites outside of Rome (2023)

Rome may have been the epicentre of the Roman Empire, but the reach of this vast civilisation was far greater than just the Italian capital. Stretching from the wilds of northern England to the north African coast, and from western Spain to the eastern reaches of Lebanon, this colossal empire left its mark on the European continent – much of which can still be seen today. Here’s our pick of the best Roman sites to discover outside Rome.

Jerash, Jordan

With its intricately carved marble temples and arches, great plazas, a spine-like colonnaded street and a mighty hippodrome where thousands of Romans would once have been entertained, Jerash was clearly an outstanding city and one that shouldn’t be missed today. It has enjoyed over 6,500 years of continual occupation and is considered one of the best-preserved Roman provincial market towns in the world and one of the finest examples of urbanism from the period.

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You can spend a good day exploring the park; it is huge and there are an enormous number of monumental buildings and plazas to see. However, if you only have a few hours you can easily still see its most dramatic sights. The Oval Forum is a must, as is the Cardo, and try to catch one of the chariot races in the hippodrome, which are staged most days.

Chester, England

Think Chester, think Romans. Established by the Romans around 75 AD, Deva Victrix, their westernmost fort, became one of the most important of the occupation, home of the celebrated XX Valeria Victrix legion. But it took until the early 20th century to unearth Chester’s Roman amphitheatre, hidden beneath buildings between St John the Baptist Church and Newgate for 2,000 years. Only a portion has been uncovered, about two-fifths of what is thought to be the largest amphitheatre in Britain, dating from the 1st century AD.

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In its heyday, this was a place for military training, executions and entertainment, hosting everything from bear baiting to gladiator fights, with the capacity for about 7,000 spectators, and today it’s possible to get a sense of the amphitheatre as it must have been.

Around the corner is the Roman Gardens, a small open-air gallery containing an assortment of fragments of the fortress that have been found in Chester since Victorian times, and which also celebrates the Romans’ role in developing gardening as a pastime.

Alba Fucens, Italy

If you take an interest in ancient Rome and its wonderfully convoluted history, Alba Fucens is a must-visit. Set on the hills and framed by the mountains of the Sirente Velino Regional Park, this wonderfully well-preserved ancient city is an easy place to imagine Roman citizens going about their business. Nowadays, the Roman, medieval and modern towns, all in close proximity to one another, show the various layers of settlement in Abruzzo.

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Taking in the site of the ancient city at a relaxed pace requires at least a few hours. Start at the modern town beside the ruins, otherwise known as Albe, where you will find a road that leads to the forum area. From the forum, wander down through the remains of the basilica, built in the reign of Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, usually known as Sulla. Taking the Via dei Pilastri to the south, you encounter the remains of shops, including a tavern.

Head back into the main area south of the basilica for the macellum (market hall) and the public baths, which were open to men and women alike. Continuing south through the baths you will encounter the large sanctuary dedicated to Hercules. To its right, remains of various domus (wealthy residential buildings) can be seen. To the left is thetheatre, which is not as interesting or evocative as the town’s amphitheatre. This, a 5-minute walk away, dates back to the first half of the 1st century BC and is in very good condition, with its oval layout completely preserved. Its magnificent entrance still retains its Latin inscriptions. Traces of the city’s walls, covering a large area, can still be seen.

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Beit Shean, Israel

Beit Shean was put on the ancient map owing to its strategic importance along the great north–south trade route, with the area’s abundant fertile lands an added incentive for residents, who first settled in the 5th century BCE. Beit Shean’s timeline spans 4,500 years, the decades following the Roman conquest truly its glory days, when it became one of ten cities that formed the Decapolis, a federated alliance, and the only one west of the Jordan River.

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It flourished through Hadrian’s reign and, after the Bar Kokhba revolt, under Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius. Rapid and extravagant development saw the construction of statues, governmental buildings and after the adoption of Christianity, the amphitheatre, bathhouses and fountains, which remain Beit Shean’s most striking features.

The remains are awe-inspiring.In the middle of the park, a single standing pillar, the only erect structure unearthed, acts as a poignant reminder of the fateful fall of a once-magnificent city when it was ravaged by a violent earthquake in 749 CE.

Baalbek, Lebanon

The Baalbek complex, a homage to the gods of the Heliopolitan Triad – Jupiter, Venus and Mercury – contains some of the largest and most impressive Roman remains in the world. Lebanon’s most feted archaeological attraction, Baalbek was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 with the comment that ‘Baalbek, with its colossal structures, is one of the finest examples of imperial Roman architecture at its apogee.’

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Despite a series of devastating earthquakes and a succession of conquering civilisations over the millennia, the Baalbek site is one of the most remarkably preserved complexes in the Middle East and should be on every traveller’s itinerary while in Lebanon. Visiting the site early on in the day will ensure there are fewer crowds and coach parties and yield better, warmer photographs of the ruins.

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Salamis, Cyprus

Ancient Salamis, the first city of Cyprus in classical Greek times and ruled by Alexander the Great in the Roman era, boasts some of the most impressive monuments to be found on the island. The pleasantly overgrown ruins lie among fragrant eucalyptus and acacia trees, and the area covered by the site is huge: so huge that although archaeologists began work here in 1890 and have continued intermittently throughout the last century, the site is still only partially excavated.

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The gymnasium is the pearl of Salamis and the glimpse of lifestyle afforded here helps to convey, more than any other monument yet exposed, the magnificence and wealth that the city must have enjoyed in Roman times. Beside the gymnasium are the colossal Byzantine baths, an impressive complex of tall chambers with marble and mosaic flooring and underfloor heating, so deeply buried in sand that they were only discovered in 1926. In two of the vaulted arches traces of Roman mosaics can still be seen, mainly in reds and browns.

Pula, Croatia

Roman Pula – or to give it its full title, Colonia Julia Pollentia Herculanea – was probably founded by the emperor Augustus around the middle of the 1st century BC. It rapidly grew into a flourishing commercial city, with an estimated population in its heyday of 25,000–30,000 inhabitants.

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There are plenty of excellent Roman ruins to explore in the city today, including one of the most complete and best-preserved Roman floor mosaics in Croatia and the crowning glory: the amphitheatre. roughly contemporary with Rome’s Colosseum, it is one of the six largest surviving Roman amphitheatres in the world, slightly elliptical in plan and measuring some 132m x 105m, with an estimated capacity of around 20,000 spectators.

Évora, Portugal

Crowned with a magnificent ruined Roman temple, this city in the Alentejo has been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. At the far northern end of the Largo Conde de Vila Flor, with dark Corinthian columns stark against the sky, is the Roman Temple, the only significant remnant of the old Roman settlement of Ebora. It once stood on one edge of the main public square, or forum, which would have served as the Roman town’s principal meeting place and market.

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For many years the ruin was referred to as the Temple of Diana, but it is unlikely ever to have been dedicated to the goddess. The myth probably arises from associations with Sertorius – the ‘Lusitanian Hannibal’ – who had a headquarters in the city and who paid homage to Diana. Most Roman forum temples were dedicated to Jupiter or to the cult of the emperor, and it is likely that this building was no exception.

Butrint, Albania

Wealthy Romans – including Cicero’s friend Atticus – had been buying up land at Butrint throughout the 1st century BC, and in 44 BC the city became a Roman colony. In the city centre, the old Hellenistic agora (market) was remodelled and turned into a Roman forum, around which sprung shops and a bathhousepaved with a black-and-white mosaic (which is today kept covered in order to protect it).

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To feed the baths and fountains with water, Roman engineers constructed an aqueduct to bring water from springs 4km away across the Vrina Plain, near the modern village of Xarra. As the city grew, its wealthiest citizens began to build prestigious villas with elegant, mosaic-floored rooms arranged around a central courtyard. The best of these that can be seen today isthe Triconch Palace, which even had its own water gate that visitors arriving by boat could enter the building straight from the water’s edge.

Aquileia,Friuli Venezia Giulia

Founded as a military colony on the river Natissa in 181 BC, Julius Caesar was known to have wintered his army in Aquileia, and Augustus made it the capital of the X Regio Venetia et Histria, receiving Herod the Great here. Its port on the Natissagrew into a key trading centre with a vast multi-cultural population and, once the fourth largest city in Italy,Aquileia was one of the first cities where Christianity was openly practised.

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Unique in that it was the only great Roman-era city in Italy to shrink into a village, today Aquileia’s 3,500 inhabitants no longer receive emperors, but build yachts and tend to their vineyards and the tourists who flock to see the most important Roman archaeological site in northeast Italy – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.

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FAQs

What country has the best Roman ruins? ›

Italy - The Heartland Of The Empire

Obviously, Italy is ranked highly and is perhaps the best place to see ancient Roman ruins. In Rome, one can see the Colosseum, the remains of the Roman Forum, and there are even ancient Roman buildings still in use today like the Pantheon.

What are the best preserved Roman ruins? ›

Here is a list of 6 remarkably well-preserved Roman buildings.
  • Maison Carrée: Roman Architecture and the Imperial Cult. ...
  • The Temple of Augustus: One of the Best Preserved Roman Monuments. ...
  • Curia Julia in Rome: The Center of the Roman World. ...
  • The Tower of Hercules: The Beacon at the Empire's Edge.
19 Sept 2021

Are there any Roman ruins left in England? ›

Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter Roman City), Wroxeter

Once the fourth largest Roman city in England, Viroconium Cornoviorum (now called Wroxeter) contains the largest free-standing Roman ruin in England as well as other extensive remains. There is also a museum on the site which is managed by English Heritage.

What countries have Roman ruins? ›

7 cities with Roman ruins
  • Rome, Italy. The most famous Roman ruin of them all, the Colosseum in Rome. ...
  • Bath, United Kingdom. Bath's Roman baths give the city its name. ...
  • Évora, Portugal. The columns at Augustus' Temple stand proud against the blue sky. ...
  • Athens, Greece. ...
  • Verona, Italy. ...
  • Chester, United Kingdom. ...
  • Syracuse, Italy.

Which country has the oldest ruins? ›

Göbekli Tepe is the oldest significant site for humans to ever have been discovered, beaten in age only by a stone wall in Greece. Its age is only made more impressive by the sheer complexity of the site. Excavations have been ongoing for the last 24 years and experts say they could continue for decades more.

What is the best preserved Roman city? ›

Herculaneum in Italy

Herculaneum is probably the best preserved ancient site in the world. Buried under 16 metres of ash and mud during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, two-storey homes have remained in tact, with most of the internal architecture and décor still visible.

What is the oldest Roman ruin? ›

The Palatine Hill is known as the place where Romulus and Remus founded Rome. The place is filled with old ruins and the entrance is combined with Collosseum and Roman Forum (12 Euros).

What is the oldest Roman building still standing? ›

The oldest building standing in Rome is the temple of Hercules Victor and dates back to the second century BC and today represents the oldest building in Rome still standing. This temple is sometimes still referred to as the Temple of Vesta and the error is due to its circular shape which makes it similar […]

Are there any Roman houses left? ›

Not all ancient Roman houses are ruins. In the badlands of central Turkey, on the edge of the Syrian desert, and beneath a quiet monastery not far from the Colosseum, Roman houses are still used and lived in today.

Is there anything Roman left in London? ›

Today, the forts northern and western edges still remain visible, along with Saxon fortifications and medieval bastion towers as part of the Barbican and Museum of London complex. The Roman amphitheatre of Londinium is situated in a vaulted chamber beneath the Guildhall gallery complex.

Was London abandoned after the Romans left? ›

What few units were left behind ended up being completely overwhelmed by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes that began raiding the country and by the end of the 5th Century, Londinium was practically abandoned.

Are there still Roman walls in London? ›

One of the most impressive sections of London's Roman City wall can be found just outside the entrance to Tower Hill Underground Station.

Is London built on Roman ruins? ›

Some visitors to London might be surprised to hear that there is a Roman Wall and Roman ruins in London, but they do exist. Around the year 50 BC, the Roman settlement of Londinium was established near where the City of London stands today.

Are there any Roman ruins in Germany? ›

Although the boundaries of the Roman Empire never overlapped with much of what is Germany today, there are still many magnificent Roman archaeological sites to visit. The preservation of some is quite spectacular, such as Trier's Constantine basilica.

Are there Roman ruins in Africa? ›

Founded by the Phoenicians and later conquered by the Romans, the ancient city of Leptis Magna in Lybia is often described as the "Rome of Africa". UNESCO classified these ancient ruins as a World Heritage Site. In 2016, this site along with four others were placed on the list of endangered sites.

What is the most famous ruin in the world? ›

CHICHEN ITZA, MEXICO

The most visited and probably the most famous ruin is Chichen Itza, a Mayan city in the state of Yucatan, roughly half-way between Merida and Cancun. The enormous site covers about 10.4 sq km (4 sq miles), though the central core area is much smaller and easily visited.

What is the best Roman in the world? ›

Readers suggest the 10 best ancient Romans
  • 1 | Gaius Valerius Catullus.
  • 2 | Marcus Aurelius.
  • 3 | Augustus.
  • 4 | Scipio Africanus.
  • 5 | Hadrian.
  • 6 | The Gracchi.
  • 7 | Marcus Licinius Crassus.
  • 8 | Petronius.
29 Oct 2015

What is the greatest Roman legacy? ›

One main legacy is the Latin language of ancient Rome, epitomized by the Classical Latin used in Latin literature, which evolved during the Middle Ages and remains in use in the Roman Catholic Church as Ecclesiastical Latin.

What was the most brutal Roman punishment? ›

More severe crimes might receive a punishment of putting out the eyes, ripping out the tongue, or cutting off ears. The death penalty included being buried alive, impaling and, of course, crucifixion. The Romans did not hesitate to torture before putting someone to death.

Who was the most ruthless Roman? ›

Cruel and tyrannical Emperor Caligula ruled Ancient Rome through fear and terror. Rampaging through Rome committing murder, adultery and acts of debauchery, his reign came to an abrupt end when he was brutally assassinated after only four years.

What was the last surviving piece of the Roman Empire? ›

Part of our difficulty in recognizing that the fall of Constantinople was the true end of the Roman Empire, is that later historians imposed a name on the surviving Roman Empire in the east that was not used by those people themselves. Historians called it Byzantium and referred to the Byzantine Empire.

What language did Romans speak? ›

Latin is the language that was spoken by the ancient Romans. As the Romans extended their empire throughout the Mediterranean, the Latin language spread. By the time of Julius Caesar, Latin was spoken in Italy, France, and Spain.

What is the oldest building on earth? ›

Göbekli Tepe. Göbekli Tepe is an archaeological site of a temple in Southeastern Turkey and has been dated back to 9500 - 8000 BCE. This date was discovered by carbon dating old tools found during excavations. This building is in fact the oldest structure on earth that we have found to date.

What is the oldest Roman city? ›

Ostia Antica ("Ancient Ostia") is a large archaeological site, close to the modern town of Ostia, that is the location of the harbour city of ancient Rome, 25 kilometres (15 miles) southwest of Rome. "Ostia" (plur.

Did Roman houses have toilets? ›

Private toilets have been found in Roman houses and upstairs apartments. Pompeii and Herculaneum have good examples of these (see Image Gallery: Pompeii's Toilets). Reconstruction of a single latrine next to the culina (kitchen) at the Pompejanum (Germany), an idealized replica of a Roman villa.

How did Rome fall abandoned? ›

Invasions by Barbarian tribes

The most straightforward theory for Western Rome's collapse pins the fall on a string of military losses sustained against outside forces. Rome had tangled with Germanic tribes for centuries, but by the 300s “barbarian” groups like the Goths had encroached beyond the Empire's borders.

What did Rome call London? ›

Londinium, also known as Roman London, was the capital of Roman Britain during most of the period of Roman rule.

What was London called before the Romans? ›

The short story of London's name goes like this: when the Romans invaded what was then a series of small kingdoms (Britain as we know it today didn't yet exist), they founded a huge trading settlement on the banks of the Thames and called it Londinium, in around 43AD.

What did the Romans call England? ›

An image first used in classical antiquity, the Latin Britannia was the name variously applied to the British Isles, Great Britain, and the Roman province of Britain during the Roman Empire.

What did the Romans call Ireland? ›

Hibernia, in ancient geography, one of the names by which Ireland was known to Greek and Roman writers. Other names were Ierne, Iouernia and (H)iberio. All these are adaptations of a stem from which Erin and Eire are also derived.

What did the Romans call Scotland? ›

In Roman times, there was no such country as Scotland. What we now know as Scotland was called 'Caledonia', and the people were known as the 'Caledonians'.

Is any of Hadrian's wall still standing? ›

What can you see today? Visitors can still patrol Hadrian's Wall, which remains standing in many areas. Housesteads is one of the Wall's best-preserved forts with the foundations of a hospital, barracks and flushable loos still visible.

Did London exist before the Romans? ›

Before the Romans invaded, London didn't exist, says Roman historian Roger Tomlin at the University of Oxford. There were just “wild west, hillbilly-style settlements” scattered around the area.

Did the Romans build a wall to keep Scotland out? ›

The Roman emperor Hadrian built the 73-mile wall at this point to keep the unruly Scottish out. When the Scottish vote in an independence referendum on Sept. 18, they will be deciding whether they want to separate from the rest of Britain. And Hadrian's wall, which still stands, has some modern-day issues of its own.

What was YORK called in Roman times? ›

York is one of England's finest and most beautiful historic cities. The Romans knew it as Eboracum. To the Saxons it was Eoforwick. The Vikings, who came as invaders but stayed on in settlements, called it Jorvik.

Could the Romans have built Stonehenge? ›

If the Romans did split the stones, they could have been used for building, though none have yet been found in nearby Roman structures. What we do know for sure is that an Anglo-Saxon man was at the stones between AD 650 and 850: his beheaded remains were found in the 1920s.

What was London called in Viking times? ›

Lundenwic gained the name of Ealdwic, 'old settlement', a name which survives today as Aldwych. This new fortified settlement of London was named Lundenburgh (A burgh meaning “fortified dwelling place”) and formed a collective defensive system of “burghs” and fortified towns.

What was Germany called before the Romans? ›

Germania is an ancient land extending east of Rhine and north of the upper and middle Danube, covering the area of modern Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. It stretched up to five hundred thousand square kilometers and was inhabited by about five million people.

Are there Roman ruins in Switzerland? ›

Augusta Raurica is a Roman archaeological site and an open-air museum in Switzerland located on the south bank of the Rhine river about 20 km east of Basel near the villages of Augst and Kaiseraugst. It is the site of the oldest known Roman colony on the Rhine.

Does Greece have Roman ruins? ›

Eleusis contains a range of hugely impressive Greco-Roman ruins, including the Sacred Court, a Roman reproduction of Hadrian's Arch, and the Kallichoron Well. A number of these monuments and buildings have survived today and are a popular draw with tourists, providing as they do a picturesque scene to explore.

What did Rome call Africa? ›

The name Africa came into Western use through the Romans, who used the name Africa terra — "land of the Afri" (plural, or "Afer" singular) — for the northern part of the continent, as the province of Africa with its capital Carthage, corresponding to modern-day Tunisia.

What was Africa called in Rome? ›

Old Africa (Africa Vetus), which generally includes the areas mentioned, was also known by the Romans (Pliny) as Africa propria, of which Carthage was its capital. The region remained a part of the Roman Empire until the Germanic migrations of the 5th century.

Why did the Romans call Africa Africa? ›

One of the most popular suggestions for the origins of the term 'Africa' is that it is derived from the Roman name for a tribe living in the northern reaches of Tunisia, believed to possibly be the Berber people. The Romans variously named these people 'Afri', 'Afer' and 'Ifir'.

Which country is famous for ruins? ›

There are famous ruins all over the world, with notable sites originating from ancient China, the Indus Valley and other regions of ancient India, ancient Iran, ancient Israel and Judea, ancient Iraq, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, Roman sites throughout the Mediterranean Basin, and Incan and Mayan sites in the ...

Where is the oldest Roman ruins? ›

The Palatine Hill is known as the place where Romulus and Remus founded Rome. The place is filled with old ruins and the entrance is combined with Collosseum and Roman Forum (12 Euros).

What is the most important archaeological site on earth? ›

The Great Pyramids

These pyramids, three in total, are elaborate burial complexes built roughly between 2550 through 2490 BCE by the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.

What is the oldest archaeological site in the world? ›

The number of people who lived at the site at any given time is not clear. "Lomekwi 3 is the oldest known archaeological site in the world," Jason Lewis, assistant director of the Turkana Basin Institute and a co-author of the paper, told Live Science in an email.

What is the most famous ancient ruins? ›

Dotted along the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, Stonehenge is easily one of the most recognized ancient ruins in the world. Dating back over 5,000 years, these curious stone rings are some of the oldest stone structures on the planet.

What is the biggest ruins in the world? ›

The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat is the best preserved and most impressive of the Khmer temples that make up the Angkor Temple Complex.

What country has the most archaeological sites? ›

Italy, with 58 entries, has the highest number of World Heritage Sites.

What is the oldest Roman structure still standing? ›

The Pantheon is the oldest building in the world that's still in use today. Since the 7th century, it has been a Roman Catholic church. Built around 125 A.D. by the Roman emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus, it was actually the third iteration of the structure.

Who was the nicest Roman emperor? ›

The “five good emperors,” as they are commonly referred to, were Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian (who were related to one another only by adoption), and the two Antonines, Antoninus Pius and ever beloved, Marcus Aurelius. The period of general prosperity which began under Vespasian continued under these emperors.

Who was emperor when Jesus died? ›

According to the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth preached and was executed during the reign of Tiberius, by the authority of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea province.

Who was the strongest Roman? ›

Trajan 98 – 117 AD

He was the most successful military man in Roman history, expanding the Empire to its greatest extent.

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