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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Want to experience these archaeological sites for yourself? Join us on our small group tours!
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.