Fishbourne Roman Palace
Yesterday afternoon I drove down to Sussex to see the famous Roman Palace at Fishbourne. For many years I had wanted to go and see the ruins of what is reported to be one of the most extensive and elaborate Roman palaces in this country. The remains were discovered in 1960 when a workman digging a trench for a water pipe unearthed large quantities of building debris and pottery. The local archaeological society was called in and during a series of excavations over several years an extensive complex was unearthed with fine mosaics and several stages of redevelopment.
These are not the first Roman remains found in the area. For several centuries Roman remains, including mosaics, had turned up in the area in and around Fishbourne, indicating that there was extensive Roman settlement outside of Chichester. The palace was begun in the first century and redesigned several times up to the late third century. There were even early mosaics found beneath other later, more elaborate mosaics. After the building suffered a fire and was abandoned, it was used as a quarry for the construction of other buildings in the area.
The remains are quite close to the surface and have therefore suffered extensive damage from historic ploughing. It also means that there is very little of the walls surviving. The north wing of the palace is the section on display beneath a modern structure designed to protect the mosaics from the weather. Most of the rest of the palace is either reburied or unexcavated.
To be honest I was slightly disappointed with what I saw. I have seen a good number of Romano British villas and mosaics and I expected something rather more spectacular. Undoubtedly the one mosaic (shown above) which remains in almost prefect condition is superb but the remaining mosaics are extensively damaged and quite unspectacular. I am glad that I have now seen the palace at Fishbourne but feel that the remains at Wroxeter in Shrewsbury are more spectacular.