Roll back the years as the centurion snores

25th September 1998 at 01:00
Chester is a walled city. It was built over what had once been a major garrison during the Roman occupation, known as Fortress Deva, after the River Dee.

York, also a walled city, was built on a former Viking settlement. The Jorvik Centre in York is a clever reconstruction of such a settlement, which is toured in little open cars on tracks, taking in the excavated site and plenty of artefacts along the way.

In Chester the Dewa Roman Experience (pronounced "deva"), provides the same sort of thing, only without the cars.

Daily Roman life has been faithfully recreated at Dewa. Visitors stroll past shop fronts displaying vegetables, fruit, fish and pottery. A sleeping centurion is snoring and coughing in his barracks, where weapons are stacked against the wall and mice run about. A couple of gossiping Romans relax in a columned bath. The armoured sentry on guard has only a bright fire for company.

Steep stairs take you down into a rough-floored excavated area with displays of coins, keys and ornaments. An interesting and more easily accessible section allows visitors to look down into four excavated pits. Here, big banners explain the coloured strips which mark different periods in the soil compostion in each of them. Roman foundations lie below Saxon layers, medieval rubbish is followed by Tudor and Stuart remains, with remnants of Georgian streets above.

Archaeological tools on display include a nail brush and a toothbrush: both have been used to uncover some of the Roman finds on display. These include carved statues, glassware, flagons, mos-aics, jewellery and hot air pipes.

The big "Finds Room" has special appeal for children. It contains large trays of fragments - pottery and tiles - to sort, as well as ancient animal bones to inspect.

A child-size rep-lica of a legi-onary's armour, helmet and shield can be tried on. This is quite heavy and much photographed. Dewa even offers the chance to become a Roman citizen by enrolling in the Imperial Roman Army's XX Region. "Gaius Valerus Crispus" patrols with recruits, telling them about his life and adventures. They then receive a recruitment certificate with details of duties, pay and Roman citizenship.

Teachers' packs which include work sheets are available.

Dewa Roman Experience, Pierpoint Lane, off Bridge Street, Chester CH1 1NL. Bookings: 01244 343407. Entry: adult Pounds 3.80, child Pounds 1.90. Group rates are available

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