The Roman Empire lasted more than 1,000 years, from its humble beginnings in the 8th century BC. Until its fall in the 5th century AD. In its various forms as a republic and later ruled by emperors, the Romans managed to conquer a vast area, from Asia Minor to the Middle East to today’s Europe in the north to Great Britain and Germany.
Wherever the Roman soldiers went, they brought their culture, art, architecture, technical ability, gods and science with them. They built streets, temples, baths, forums, and elegant mansions. There are roughly 50 monuments in Italy, but a staggering 23 in the rest of the world that have been ruled by them at one point or another have survived war and natural disasters such as earthquakes.
Some statues may be missing a head or arm, the magnificent pillars of some temples may have collapsed, but overall the monuments that have been preserved in some of the most interesting lands once ruled by the Romans are nothing short of impressive. I have personally visited everyone mentioned here, from Lebanon to the colder climates of the UK and Germany.
1. Baalbek / Lebanon
The city and temple complex of Baalbek is located east of the Litani River in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley, about 65 km northeast of Beirut. In the year 16 BC It became a province of the Roman Empire and Baalbek, then known as Heliopolis. The largest temple of Jupiter in the empire was built between 16 BC. Various earthquakes have overturned many of the original pillars, but six in a row still stand.
In addition to the temple of Jupiter, another somewhat smaller temple was built, which is dedicated to the god Bacchus. Nowadays you have to be careful when climbing in the huge facility or risk twisting your ankle. Many statues and other works of art are in the nearby museum.
In 1956 the Baalbek International Festival was launched, which soon became the most prestigious cultural event in the Middle East. Imagine operas, theater, even rock and pop groups performing in front of the ruins of this stunning complex. A better open-air stage is hard to imagine. Due to political events, the festival was suspended several times, but has now been resumed. Here it is Program of this year’s festival.
Insider tip: As for US citizens, Trip to Lebanon is currently not recommended for several reasons. Should you still decide to travel from Beirut to Baalbek, it is best to hire a private car and a local driver. So I travel all over the Middle East and Turkey.
2. Conimbriga / Portugal
Conimbriga, about 16 km from Coimbra, is perhaps not the largest, but certainly the best-preserved Roman settlement in Portugal. Roman soldiers came in 139 BC. In this already existing, much older, walled urban settlement. You enter the settlement through gates and walk along the 1,900 foot long walls.
The most beautiful sights are the luxurious Roman villas that were excavated and can be admired today. Most famous among them is Casa dos Repuxos with its lush mosaics and beautiful garden that still shows 500 jets of water that kept it fresh and watered. Stroll from one of the houses to the next and then visit the nearby museum with a magnificent collection of pottery and sculptures.
3. Ephesus / Turkey
Ephesus is located near the Mediterranean Sea in western Turkey, about 80 km south of Izmir and near the modern city of Selcuk. It is an ancient Greek settlement that the Romans for once did not conquer. It was given to the Romans by King Attalus III. bequeathed in his will as he had no heirs. The Romans came to Ephesus because of this gift and founded the province of Asia in 133 AD with Ephesus as its capital. The most famous Roman monument from Ephesus is this Celsus library. It was built by Gaius Julius Aquila in honor of his father Celsus, who was the governor of the province and a great lover of science and literature.
Access to the library is now via nine steps to the platform on which the building stands. It could hold more than 12,000 scrolls and was the third largest library in the world at the time. In niches near the entrance are four statues representing wisdom, knowledge, virtue and judgment. However, they are replicas like the originals in the Ephesus Museum in Vienna.
Ephesus is a huge complex and you can stroll the streets and see more Roman buildings (including a brothel). Do the short trip Selcuk and visit the museum which beautifully displays many statues and artifacts from all periods of Ephesus history that have been excavated from the site.
Insider tip: When visiting Ephesus, bring water, sunscreen, and a hat. There is no shade and the sun can be violent.
4. Jerash / Jordan
For centuries, much of this fascinating, vast Roman city, one of the largest complexes outside Italy, was buried under desert sands after multiple earthquakes. More or less by chance it was discovered and today Jerash is an amazing sight. Located about 48 km north of the capital Amman, the Romans conquered in 63 BC. BC Jordan (and Syria).
In Jerash there is a rulers’ straight street lined with Ionic columns, a rare oval square, a hippodrome, a temple to Artemis and Zeus, two large public baths, two theaters and the massive Arch of Hadrian, which was built in honor of the emperor’s visit in AD. was built in 129/130, and an almost complete city wall.
When I visited, entertainment was provided by re-enacting horse races in the hippodrome, but that has now been abandoned. Instead there is the annual one Festival of culture and art.
5. Roman Theater / Cartagena / Spain
Cartagena is located on the Costa Calida on the Mediterranean Sea in southeastern Spain. The city with its numerous Roman monuments was founded in 209 BC. Conquered by the Romans in the Second Punic War.
End of the first century BC They built a theater, one of the largest on the Iberian Peninsula, which could seat 6,000 people. After the Roman conquest, the theater was overbuilt by subsequent civilizations and only rediscovered and restored to its former glory in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today it is one of the most visited Roman monuments in Cartagena.
The theater is entered through a pink building on Rathausplatz, which provides access to a museum and the theater itself via a tunnel. In addition to the theater and museum, there are Roman villas and a forum to visit.
6. Porta Nigra / Trier / Germany
Trier is often referred to as the oldest city in Germany. The area in Rhineland-Palatinate on the banks of the Moselle was founded in the first century BC. Conquered by the Romans and 16 BC. Renamed Augusta Treverorum. The Porta Nigra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, became four city gates in 170 BC. It is in fact the best preserved Roman city gate north of the Alps. Originally the four towers of the gate were four stories high, today only one reaches this height. However, it is a great experience to climb into the light-flooded halls on the upper floors with a great view over the city and the river and then explore much darker rooms on the ground floor.
For great fun: let yourself be led by a Roman centurion (played by an actor) who will tell you the story and help you defend the “black gate”. Who could resist this?
7. Hadrian’s Wall / Great Britain
Hadrian’s Wall is a former defensive structure in the Roman province of Britannia in northern Great Britain. Begun in AD 122 under the reign of Emperor Hadrian (hence the name), the wall runs from Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east across the island to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. The total length is 84 miles and a significant portion of the wall is still standing. It is a popular way to explore this part of the UK on foot Hadrian’s Wallweg that runs along the wall.
The trail is a British National Trail, while Hadrian’s Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Anyone who is relatively fit can take the route, which is divided into sections. As at other times, the best time to do this is between May and October and in wet weather the trail can get muddy.
Several openings in the wall are considered customs posts because the wall separated the province of Britannia from the undefeated Caledonia in the north (now Scotland).
Monuments and memorials represent events throughout history and are a real wonder. Consider: