Carnuntum Archaeological Park in Austria contains both reconstructed and original remains from this once-thriving and strategically vital Roman city.
The site is made up of a number of different attractions spread across a rather large area. Fascinating Roman ruins sit amongst restored and entirely reconstructed buildings, designed to bring visitors back in time to experience what life would have been like here in the Roman era.
Roman influence first took hold at Carnuntum in the early Julio-Claudian period. At the time the Danube was vital to Rome’s defence and the site was chosen as an important defensive sector and home to Rome’s 15th Legion. The Emperor Claudius also recognised the potential of the city, erecting a military camp designed to hold 6000 men while the city became the Carnuntum capital of the province of Upper Pannonia.
From the early second century the 14th legion, one of Rome’s most formidable, was stationed at Carnuntum - a testament to the city’s growing importance. With a permanent military garrison in place, and great potential for trade, a thriving civilian city expanded at Carnuntum and it soon became one of the largest and most important Roman cities in the region.
It was in 308AD, however, at a conference between the four Emperors of the Tetrarchy that Carnuntum would play its part in vital Roman - and world - history. After tough negotiations at Carnuntum, an end to the persecution of Christians and a universal tolerance of religion was proclaimed throughout the Empire.
With the increasing instability of the later-Roman empire, Carnuntum’s position on the border left it vulnerable. The city suffered greatly during the Barbarian Invasions and was gradually abandoned and fell to ruin.
Today visitors to Carnuntum can explore the remains of this Roman city - including the ruins of the military camp, amphitheatre and civilian and religious buildings - while also discovering the many full reconstructions built at the site.
These architectural reconstructions were produced largely with traditional Roman tools and craftsmanship and are said to be among the most accurate representations of Roman life in the fourth century ever produced. Fully functional, they are not simply museum pieces but instead welcome visitors to experience vibrant Roman life and society as it actually was.
Visitors can amass the dignitas and gloria of genuine Roman senators as they walk through the city’s buildings, particularly the Villa Urbana which showcases the luxury afforded to the wealthiest of the residents.
The archaeological site includes an important temple area which predates the Roman conversion to Christianity and celebrates one of the most important of Roman gods, Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Another highlight is the amphitheatre which was the centre of the Roman entertainment and home to the legendary Gladiator fights. The site’s other attractions include the remains of large public baths, an impressive Roman monument known as the Heidentor (Heathens’ Gate), while the museum is also a must see.
It is worth noting that the site is set out across a large area, with significant distance between the various attractions. It is therefore advisable to be prepared for these long walks when visiting.
Contributed by Rebecca Lewis