"This summer we are celebrating all things Roman following the release of the movie, The Eagle."
This summer we are celebrating all things Roman following the release of the movie, The Eagle. The film stars Step Up hottie, Channing Tatum (pictured right), and local boy, Jamie Bell, and follows a young centurion's journey to Hadrian's Wall to restore the honour of the Ninth Legion.
The 2011 release ties in with a series of exhibitions and events to celebrate the arrival of the Romans in northern England more than 2,000 years ago. And the hub of the action is the border city of Carlisle: the strategic base for around 650,000 troops until the collapse of the Roman Empire in AD410.
For a crash course in Roman history, the starting place has to be Carlisle's Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, which unveils its landmark new Roman Frontier Gallery this summer. Inside, you'll find an array of Roman artefacts - some from Tullie House's own significant collections, others on loan from the British Museum in London. Perusing the collection of stonework, armour and other Roman trinkets, plus a full-sized section of Hadrian's Wall, we learn why the Emperor Hadrian first ordered the construction of the wall in AD122.
Spanning over 73 miles from Wallsend, near Newcastle, to Bowness-on-Solway just west of Carlisle, it came to symbolise the dominance of the Roman Empire for some 300 years. The wall remains the longest monument in Britain and was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987.
'Hadrian's Wall is often mistakenly represented as a border between the English and Scottish tribes,' explains Tim Padley, Tullie House's Keeper of Archaeology. 'The wall was partly a frontier to control people, much like the Berlin Wall, but it was also about collecting customs dues (a type of tax) and making a statement.'
To find out more about the Roman period, there are six new Roman audio walks around Carlisle and the Wall, which are available as iPhone applications this summer. If striding in such illustrious footsteps has awakened your inner Roman, why not jump on the Hadrian's Wall Country Bus (AD122) at Carlisle and head towards Hexham. About halfway, at Brampton, you'll find Birdoswald Roman Fort which once accommodated a garrison of over 1,000 soldiers from all over the Roman Empire.
Here, you can explore the remains of the fort and see the longest continuous remaining stretch of Hadrian's Wall. It's also a great place for families, with a calendar of fun events and workshops throughout summer - from making a Roman helmet to learning to march like a Roman legionnaire.
If that has whetted your appetite, why not visit the most easterly Roman fort on the Wall, Segedunum at Wallsend in Newcastle? As the most excavated fort along Hadrian's Wall, it's seen plenty of expert digging and dusting. Nowadays, Segedunum has a large Roman museum and a Roman bathhouse reconstructed from local archaeological remains; it also boasts a 35m-high viewing tower that gives you breathtaking views across the Wall. When you get to Newcastle, jump on the Metro from Monument or St James to Wallsend or catch bus no 22 and get off at Wallsend bus station.
Finally, York is another great place to celebrate Roman life. The annual York Roman Festival returns on 18-19 June with events all over the city. The history camp at Grays Court, near York Minster, will feature displays and children's activities. There's also an exciting new 'Gladiators of York' show at the York Dungeon. First, you'll have to face Aurelius the 'Lanista' (chief slave driver) who's always on the lookout for new slaves. Then, you'll be plunged into a world of roaring crowds and brutal combat in the gladiator arena.
So go on... dust off that gladiator's costume and start marching!
We have five family tickets to the York Dungeon up for grabs for those brave enough to venture into the new 'Gladiators of York' experience. Do you dare to enter the arena and risk being thrown to the lions? Come and discover the grisly side of York's Roman history first hand...
Closing date: 23 September 2011
Tullie House Museum, tulliehouse.co.uk
Birdoswald Roman Fort, english-heritage.org.uk
Hadrian's Wall country, hadrians-wall.org
Segedunum Roman Fort, twmuseums.org.uk
York Roman Festival, yorkromanfestival.co.uk
The York Dungeon, thedungeons.com
MORE THINGS TO DO IN CARLISLE...
Carlisle has featured in many key periods of British history - from its heyday as a centre of Roman life to its capture by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 - which makes it a great place for a historical day out.
Constructed by the son of William the Conqueror in 1092, the castle is the most besieged place in the British Isles. It has also provided shelter for a who's who of British royalty - from Edward I to Mary, Queen of Scots. Shiver in the dungeons, visit the keep or take a guided tour.
Henry VIII built the original twin drum towers of the Citadel in 1541, and the towers you see now were rebuilt in 1810. Catch a guided tour of the west tower in July or August (just book your place at the Carlisle Tourist Information Centre).
Surviving centuries of strife, not to mention part-demolition in the 1600s, it's small wonder the Cathedral is still standing, let alone so beautiful. Feast your eyes on stained glass, medieval paintings and religious treasures.