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Unravel the Secrets of the Past
Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum (South Shields)
Member Name: ks.h
Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum (South Shields)
Date: 10/05/02, updated on 10/05/02 (242 review reads)
Advantages: Entertaining, Informative, Family Fun
For over three hundred years the Roman Fort of Arbeia stood guard high above the mouth of the River Tyne; built in AD 160’s the stone fort at South Shields on the south bank of the river played an important role in the mighty frontier system that stretched across the width of England marking the northern boundaries of the Roman Empire.
The Fort controlled the main port of entry to the Roman Empire in Britain and was originally built to house a garrison but soon became the military supply base for the forts along Hadrian’s Wall, more than one thousand five hundred years on the remains of Arbeia represent the most extensively excavated example of a military supply base anywhere in the Roman Empire.
The West Gate has been painstakingly rebuilt on its original foundations using blocks of the same type of sandstone and to a design based on expert knowledge of Roman architecture.
Original excavations of the four-acre site were begun in the nineteenth century and resumed in 1949 and are still ongoing, the work has revealed much of the Fort’s history dating back to the middle of the second century but the site still holds many secrets that are slowly but surely being unearthed.
The newly reconstructed Commanding Officer’s House and Barrack Block show the contrast between Roman Garrison life with the cramped accommodation for ordinary soldiers and the luxurious rooms of the Commanding Officer’s quarters.
The house was not at the centre of the Fort as is normal but tucked away at the south eastern corner and quite a walk from the headquarters building in the centre of the Fort. Excavation of the Commanding Officer’s house were directed by Paul Bidwell and Nicholas Hodgeson for the Tyne and Wear Museums and thanks to their excellent supervision it is now possible to conduct a guided tour of the house.
Excavations at South Shields have continued to give surprises, the first stone fort was
built around AD 160 as a conventional fort however around AD 200 everything was reorganised and it became a supply base and a dividing wall was built across the centre of the Fort and in the northern half all the barracks were pulled down and replaced by granaries and a new mini-headquarters building was built in the southern quadrant. Around AD 300 the Fort was burned down but it is not clear whether this was an accidental fire or enemy attack.
There is an exhibition inside the reconstructed gateway where you can learn more about the history of the site from the Stone Age to the Roman occupation through to the present day, the exhibition is aptly named ‘Gateway to the Past’.
Arbeia also has it’s own Museum where vivid relics of the Roman Occupation have been unearthed and are on display, some of the fascinating site finds include weapons, armour and other military fittings, coins, pottery, glass and jewellery.
You can discover how the Romans buried their dead in ‘The Death and Burial Gallery’ and see original Roman tombstones, inscribed altars and even human remains, which have all be unearthed at Arbeia.
Time Quest, which brings the past even more to life, is aimed principally at the young but adults find it just as enthralling. A mock excavation area gives hands-on experience of an authentic dig by revealing evidence of settlements going back five thousand years.
There are workshops where a guide is on hand at all times to answer questions and visitors can:
Reconstruct a sheep’s skeleton and examine bones to see what types of animals were kept in the grounds of the Fort.
Piece together pottery unearthed on the site to discover types of Roman cooking methods.
Inspect archaeological finds under the microscope to discover what type of vegetation was grown in the area.
Try weaving just as the Romans did more than one thousand five hundred years ago an
d design a Roman mosaic.
Have a go at writing the way Romans did using a stylus, wax tablet and the Roman alphabet.
See if you can read what is carved in the stones excavated from the site and use the microscope and x-rays to uncover further mysteries.
Have a go at Roman engineering and attempt to build a Roman arch.
If you visit Time Quest on a Tuesday you can watch a stonemason carving out items to be used in the reconstructions at the Fort.
Arbeia Roman Fort, Exhibition, Museum and Burial Gallery
Open from Easter to September,
Monday to Saturday 10.00am to 5.30pm and Sunday 1.00pm to 5.00pm.
October the Easter
Monday to Saturday 10.00am to 4.00pm and closed Sunday.
School Term Time
Monday to Friday 10.00am to 3.00pm
Monday to Friday 11.00am to 4.00pm
Easter to October
Saturday 10.00am to 5.00pm and Sunday 1.00pm to 5.00pm
October to Easter closed weekends.
Admission to Arbeia Fort, Exhibition, Museum and Burial Gallery is Free.
Admission to Time Quest Adults £1.50 Children and Concessions 80p
Most of the attractions are accessible to wheelchair users and there are disabled toilets. Guide dogs are welcome and assistance is available to the visibly impaired, the Museum and Time Quest also have a loop system for visitors who are hearing impaired. There is a small souvenir shop and café.
Arbeia plays host to many events throughout the year, from Family Fun activities and Roman military and civilian demonstrations, to open air performances of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.
Arbeia Fort and Time Quest
Tyne and Wear.
Telephone 0191 456 1369
Arbeia Fort and Time Quest is a ten minute walk from South Shields Metro Station, exit the station onto King Street and turn right (this is a pedestrian only street) co
ntinue down King Street onto Ocean Road (one street that changes names at the crossroads), the Fort is signposted from Ocean Road. Alternatively the Bus Station is located at the bottom of the stairs from the Metro Station and bus number 500 runs from South Shields town centre and stops outside the fort.
The Fort is also well signposted for those travelling by car and there is a free car and coach park nearby.
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