Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Fishbourne Roman Palace


 Yesterday we visited somewhere I had been curious about for a long time.  En route between where we live and where my folks live we pass a sign for 'Fishbourne Roman Palace' but it's usually too late by the time we're travelling to stop in.  This time we travelled home earlier as we all had colds, and decided to try Fishbourne out as somewhere to stop for a picnic, not expecting there to be much left of the Roman Palace. 

We did find a lovely picnic spot there (complete with spoil hills from the initial excavation to roll down), but boy were we wrong about there not being much left of the palace!

 The site itself is quite large and encompasses a visitors centre, café, gardens and collections discovery centre.  The visitors centre is brilliant for kids, with lots of hands on opportunities, dressing up clothes and, on the day we went, re-enactors with a table of food for visitors to try. 

A film runs at regular intervals, narrated by Time Team's Tony Robinson, which describes the history of the site and recreates what Britain's largest Roman Palace would have looked like.


The enormous visitors centre preserves and displays the largest collection of mosaics in Britain, along with burials from a later period after the Palace was destroyed by fire and demolition.

Walkways and ramps make the site fully accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs, as well as giving a bird's eye view of the beautiful earlier monochrome and later polychrome mosaics.

 Children are very welcome, with elements designed for them at regular intervals around the museum, including opportunities to handle and sort real artefacts.
 Outside the original plans for the garden have been recreated in the box hedged area, and a smaller garden with herbs and vegetables typical for the period has been produced. 
 In the shed a mannequin of a Roman gardener explains how he was brought from Rome as the locals are farmers, not gardeners.  Interactive displays show more information on crops and plants and tools from the period.

A separate building houses the Collections Discovery Centre where you can glimpse some of the 1million artefacts stored and see where the archaeologists work, as well as learning about a fascinating project tracing the areas deer by looking at their DNA and analysing minerals in their teeth.

We really liked the archaeologist's desk set up for children to explore to discover for themselves what the archaeologist was working on.

In the gift shop I stocked up on a few colouring sheets and postcards for the kids to use when Ollie finishes his Ancient Egypt project and starts on Romans soon.  It was very hard resisting the brilliant collection of books on sale.  We then finished off with a trip to the lovely and very reasonably priced tea room before we headed home.

I would highly recommend this site for anyone with budding historians and archaeologists.  When we went adult entry was £8.80 with under 5s free, but we benefitted from half price entry because we have English Heritage membership and Sussex Past, who run the site, have an arrangement with English Heritage.  A program of events runs between February and December, including mosaic making, a murder mystery evening and have-a-go archaeology.


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