The origins of London begin in Roman times, over two thousand years ago when the Romans began to build a port and bridge over the River Thames. It was a wealthy and successful town, where trade and commerce ruled. Much of the city known to the Romans now lies buried underneath successive layers of buildings, most of which relate to new forms of commerce that have developed over the centuries. This is a city which is truly built on trade and commerce.
Not too far from Regency House Hotel London is The Museum of London located in the Barbican near St Paul’s Cathedral, contains many displays relating to the area’s Roman history as well as countless objects that have been found over the years.
Now, visitors staying potentially in hotels near Bloomsbury London can actually see one of those original Roman buildings in exactly the same place where it was built centuries ago.
Housed underneath Bloomberg’s European headquarters near the Bank of England is London’s Mithraeum, a rare and unique building of which very few examples exist anywhere in Europe. The Mithraeum was originally discovered in the aftermath of the Second World War when bomb damaged buildings were being cleared. Thousands of people came to see it, before developers dug it up and removed it.
Now it has returned to the exact spot underground where it was built all those centuries ago. The Mithraeum is open to the public, free of charge.
To find the Mithraeum head to Wallbrook, close to the Bank of England. Entry is via a contemporary art gallery showing works of art influenced by the site’s history. Take a look at the display cases containing hundreds of artifacts found by archaeologists working on the site. Two of the most significant artifacts are only small, but are extremely important. These are tablets, containing the first written documents ever to found in England. Both tablets date to the first century AD, one document is an IOU dealing with money lending while the other contains the first reference to Londinium, the Roman name for London.
The Mithraeum itself is located further underground. As you follow the stairs downwards, you are truly walking through history as each layer of soil that you pass is another layer in the history of London. The different historical layers are marked on the walls and include references to World War II, Victorian London, the Great Fire of London in 1666, Tudor London, Viking and Anglo Saxon London. It is only at the bottom of the steps that you reach Roman soil. This was the layer upon which the Mithraeum was built centuries ago.
Care has been taken to replace the stones in their original places, and it is a truly remarkable sight. It would have been a large building dedicated to the worship of the Roman god, Mithras. Although only the base of the building now exists, the use of columns of light create a 4D building which really brings it to life – especially when voices out of the darkness start chanting the rituals that would have taken place on the site. It is definitely a bit eerie and atmospheric, but certainly well worth seeing.
If you are planning to visit London, try booking a stay in bed and breakfast near Covent Garden to enjoy most of the popular London attractions.