What’s the Roman Wall in London?

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The Roman Wall of London was a fortification built to protect Londinium, with six major gates and a moat. It enclosed 330 acres and was built in the 2nd century AD. The wall had administrative facilities, housed prisoners and guards, and was locked at night. It remained until the 18th century, and some sections still exist today.

The Roman Wall of London was once a formidable fortification built by the Romans to protect their city of Londinium and surrounded by a large moat to further deter invasion. Although the Roman wall has been largely demolished, traces of it still exist, and it is possible to visit some sections of the wall which have been preserved in situ. While fortified cities are relatively rare in the modern age, city walls were standard at one point in history, and the London Wall has been a very effective fortification for the city, actively protecting it for over 1,000 years.

Londinium was founded around AD 43, when the Romans first reached Britain. After the destruction by Boudica, a native Celtic woman who led a revolt of the tribes against the Romans, Londiumium was rebuilt and the foundations laid for the wall. The construction of the wall appears to have been concentrated in the 2nd century AD. When completed, the wall enclosed 330 acres (1.3 square kilometers) with an extremely thick and high wall marked by “gates” that allowed entry into the city.

The gates of the Roman walls weren’t like the simple hinged doors most people might imagine. Instead, they were complexes built into the wall itself, with heavy doors that could be closed at night. Each gate was used to house administrative facilities, and the gates often housed prisoners as well. London guards lived and worked at the gates, screening people entering the city and assessing tolls if necessary. At night, the city was locked so that no one could enter, and curfews were often imposed even on citizens.

At first, the Roman wall had a small number of important gates, to limit the wall’s vulnerabilities. As London expanded, the need for more gates grew, until six major gates were built: Aldersgate, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Ludgate and Newgate. The names of some of these gates might seem a little strange, but they often have prosaic explanations; Cripplegate, for example, is likely related to an Anglo-Saxon term meaning ‘tunnel’, not to people with disabilities. The sites where these gates once stood are named after them, and it’s not uncommon to see streets named after features on the London Wall as well.

London’s Roman Wall largely remained in existence until about the 18th century, when the expanding city began putting pressure on the wall. Many sections were demolished to build houses and, in the 20th century, further sections of the Roman walls were destroyed by bombing. The remaining portions are an impressive testimony of Roman engineering.

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