Julius Caesar first visited Britain in 55 B.C., but it wasn’t until A.D. 43 that Emperor Claudius decided the Thames was a favorable shipping route from the North Sea and established a town in the area just east of present day Westminster.
The area extends roughly from east of Waterloo Bridge to Tower Bridge and north from the Thames toward the Museum of London. If walking, there are stone Dragon monuments that mark the boundaries of the Old City.
Of course, local Celtic tribes did not welcome the Roman invasion any more than Native Americans did white settlers. Inceni Queen Boudicca of East Anglia led a revolt against the Romans and destroyed their cities of Camulodunum (Colchester), Verulamium (St. Albans) and Londinium.
Perhaps she was the first, true Women’s Libber! In any case, she was indeed a Warrior Woman whom men followed into war. A statue of her driving her chariot stands at the corner of today’s Westminster Bridge and Victoria’s Embankment, right across from Parliament.
The Romans, however, were not known for accepting defeat. They rebuilt Londinium, including a stone wall to protect from future attacks. London Wall (between Bishopsgate and Aldersgate marks where the Roman wall once stood. Portions of it can also be seen on the grounds of the Tower of London as well as beneath St. Brides Church on Fleet Street and at the Museum of London.
A gladiatorial ampi-theatre was built on the North Bank of the Thames off Gresham Street where the Guildhall now stands. A Forum was added near present-day Cornhill and Gracechurch Streets. Close to Cheapside and Queen Street, a Roman-style bathhouse with hypocausts provided the traditional three-chamber method of bathing—soaking in the caldarium (hot, steamy water), then into the tepidarium (tepid temperature) and dipping into the frigidarium (very cold water) for the finish.
A number of temples to Roman gods and goddesses were also erected through the first two centuries. When Christianity emerged in the early 4th century, Romans did in Britain what they did across the Continent…they simply replaced Pagan holidays with Christian ones. The Celtic Imbolc (February 1) became Candlemas, spring Beltane became Easter, the Summer Solstice of Litha became St. John’s Day, autumn Samhain became All Hallows Eve, and the Winter Solstice festival of Yule became Christmas (celebrating the Christ’s Mass).
The Romans abruptly abandoned Britain in the early 5th century to return to the Continent and defend their empire from Eastern invaders, but many remnants of their culture remains, if one knows where to look.
Another point of interest within the old Roman walls is the circular Temple Church built by the Templars in 1185. Not only is it still standing, but it’s in regular use for Sunday services and special events.
But Temple Church—and the Templars—are fodder for another day.