Chester Roman Amphitheatre is a scheduled monument located in Chester, Cheshire, managed by English Heritage and is Grade I listed.
The ruins currently exposed are those of a large stone amphitheatre, similar to those found in Continental Europe, and although it is thought that a smaller wooden amphitheatre existed on the site beforehand, excavations since 1999 have shown that the wooden grillage is the base of the seating. Today, only the northern half of the structure is exposed, the southern half is covered by buildings, some of which are themselves listed.
The amphitheatre is the largest so far uncovered in Britain, dating from the 1st century, when the Roman fort of Deva Victrix was founded. It was used for entertainment which included cock fighting, bull baiting and combat sports gladiatorial combat. It was in use through much of the Roman occupation of Britain, but fell into disuse around the year 350. The amphitheatre was only rediscovered in 1929, when one of the pit walls was discovered during construction work. Between 2000 and 2006, excavation of the amphitheatre took place for Chester City Council and, after 2004, English Heritage
Following the Roman departure from Britain, the amphitheatre the masonry robbed from the site leaving only a small depression at the centre of the site, which was then used to stage bear fights and public executions, later it was completely filled in by erosion and refuse dumping. A Georgian house complex known as Dee House were built over the south end of the arena, while a Georgian townhouse called St. John's House was built over the north end. Although all records of the amphitheatre were lost, the unfavourable contours of the filled-in amphitheatre prevented roads from passing through the site, preserving the underground remains and allowing the site to later be excavated without the need for extensive demolition.
Although the existence of an amphitheatre in Chester had been speculated for years, the first evidence for it was discovered in 1929 when gardening works at Dee House revealed a long curved wall. Further works revealed that the structure was largely intact underneath the ground. However, the site of the amphitheatre was covered by buildings and lay in the way of a new planned road, designed to bypass the narrow curved lane which skirted the perimeter.
The Chester Archaeological Society agreed to raise enough money to divert the new road and excavate the arena, the council refused to change the course of the road unless money was raised to fund the substantial demolition work that would be required. In 1933 the route of the road was changed and order to fund the excavations, Chester Archaeological Society purchased St. John's House, then leased it to the council to fund the dig. Although scheduled for 1939, it was postponed indefinitely with the outbreak of World War II.
Work resumed in 1957 as the Ministry of Works offered a substantial subsidy for excavation but as Dee House was still in use, only the northern half could be excavated. A small area was dug up, and the rest redeveloped as a short-lived park, which was quickly removed to allow further excavation. The badly pillaged and damaged supporting walls were removed and marked with concrete.
|In 2000, the archaeological work was resumed. They found the remains of the earlier amphitheatres and of an older Roman building that existing on the site. A number of cooked animal bones and cheaply made Roman pots showing images of gladiator combat were also found, leading a number of historians to suggest that the site was one of the first places to develop souvenirs for spectators to buy.