Best Roman Ruins outside of Italy

Posted by Crooked Compass

At the height of it's power in 117 AD, the Roman Empire covered most of Western Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, from Armenia in the East to Portugal and Britain in the West. Whilst there is a countless number of Roman archaeological sites throughout Italy, there are also dozens of forgotten ruins spread across the empire. From enormous temples still standing in Lebanon to abandoned cities buried beneath centuries of rubble in Jordan, join us as we explore the best Roman ruins outside of Italy.


1. Temple of Bacchus

Located in the city Baalbek in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley, about 85 km northeast of Beirut, is the ancient Temple of Bacchus. Construction of the enormous temple was complete in the late 2nd century and was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. This temple is just one of several buildings that made up the temple complex of Baalbek, and has been kept in surprisingly good condition thanks to the rubble from the surrounding sites. With eight columns wide and fifteen columns deep, this Lebanese temple is larger than the Pantheon in Athens and is in better condition to. The temple is dedicated to Bacchus, the Roman God of agriculture, wine and fertility, which is evident from the decorative engravings that cover the inner walls of the temple.

Temple of Bacchus
Temple of Bacchus

2. Conimbriga of Portugal

The most well preserved and largest Roman ruins in Portugal is the urban settlement of Conimbriga. Before Roman arrival in 139 BC, the region had already been settled in by the Conii people and the city already had foundations set out. The Roman occupation of the region was peaceful and the Romans brought with them the agricultural technology that had allowed them to expand. Conimbriga quickly became a prosperous town during this time, being promoted to the status of Municipium between 69 and 79 AD. Over the next two centuries several urban development programs were initiated in the town, including thermal baths and amphitheatre large enough to fit 10,000 people.

Mosaic tiles surrounding ruins at Conimbriga
Mosaic tiles surrounding ruins at Conimbriga

3. Leptis Magna 

Leptis Magna was an important Roman city on Libya's northern coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. The settlement was originally home to Berber and Punic populations, and was considered a free Roman city from 111 BC to 20 AD, when Emperor Tiberius formally incorporated the city into the empire as part of the province of Africa. Soon after, Leptis Magna grew to become one of the leading cities in Roman Africa and played a vital role as a major trading post. The city did not peak until 193 AD, when future emperor Septimius Severus was born inside the city walls.

The Arch of Septimius Severus in Leptis Magna
The Arch of Septimius Severus in Leptis Magna

Born in 145 AD in Leptis Magna, Septimus Severus developed his skills as a leader under Emperor Marcus Aurelius, before following in his teachers footsteps and becoming Emperor in 193 AD. Severus favoured his hometown more than any other province and city in the region and lavished it with decorative buildings and structures. Constructions completed during this time include; an amphitheatre, marketplace, new docks and a basilica. By the time these constructions were complete, Leptis Magna had become the third most important city in Africa, after Carthage and Alexandria.

Aerial shot of the Severan Basilica
Aerial shot of the Severan Basilica

4. Port Nigra in Germany

The large city gate began construction in 186 AD in the town of Trier, Germany, and was complete in 200 AD. Whilst the impressive structure may seem to be ruins of long lost defensive wall, archaeologists have determined that the Gate was never full complete, as protruding stones would not have allowed for a movable inner Gate. During Roman occupation, the Porta Nigra was one of four gates surrounding the rectangular city, and the only one to have survived centuries of looting and destruction. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gate was abandoned for centuries until it was converted into a church in the 11th century. It remained as such until 1802 when Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church and ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its original Roman formation.

A refurbished Port Nigra
A refurbished Port Nigra

5. Jerash in Jordan

When people think of archaeological sites in Jordan, often their first thought is of Petra, but there is so much more to discover. The ancient city of Jerash, located just 48km from the capital Amman, is perhaps the best-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy. Jerash became a urban centre in the 3rd century BC under Greek control and remained as such until the 1st century BC when it was conquered by Emperor Pompey in 63 BC. Over the next two centuries the city flourished under Roman occupation with many infrastructure projects constructed in this time including extensive road networks that brought trade to the region.

Aerial shot of Jerash featuring theatre and oval forum
Aerial shot of Jerash featuring theatre and oval forum

Other archaeological sites that can still be found in within the city walls include numerous Corinthium columns, a hippodrome, two large theatres, a unique oval forum surrounded by columns and a Tetrapylon. In 129-130 AD the city was visited by Roman Emperor Hadrian and a a massive welcoming gate was constructed to honour his visit. Whilst Emperor Hadrian is famous for building Hadrian's Wall, marking the northern border of Roman Britain, as well as reconstructing the Pantheon in Rome, it is the Arch of Hadrian that is the most decorated and impressive. the central section of the arch was designed for chariots to pass through, whilst the two smaller passages were meant for pedestrians, one for commoners and the other for nobles.

Hadrian's Arch

6. Hippodrome of Caesarea

Once a Phoenician naval station, the city of Caesarea became a Roman settlement in 30 BC when it was granted to Herod the Great. Over the next two centuries the city flourished, a major harbour was built and used to trade with other Roman outposts, allowing Caesarea to quickly became the most populated city in Judea. Herod erected many buildings in this city during his time as ruler of Judea, including a modern port, aqueducts, an amphitheatre and a temple dedicated to Emperor Caeser, whom Herod named the city after. The greatest of these archaeological sites is the Hippodrome, where Herod held a new sporting festival that was to rival the Olympics. The Hippodrome faces the Mediterranean sea and the sandy shores, long track and seating for over 10,000 people provokes images of Ben-Hur great chariot race. The Hippodrome was often the site of conflict between the Jews and Gentiles living simultaneously in Caesera, one instance of tensions boiling over is during the 2nd century when the 10 greatest Rabbi's of the generation where publicly executed in the Hippodrome by the Romans for their refusal to stop teaching the Torah.

Hippodrome and Amphitheatre at Caesarea
Hippodrome and Amphitheatre at Caesarea

Want to experience these archaeological sites for yourself? Join us on our small group tours!