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You can now visit a remarkable chunk of Roman wall, hidden for centuries. And you should.
Most of London's 1,800-year-old Roman city wall is long gone, but fragments still pop up here and there, if you know where to look. An excellent place to start is this wonderful new exhibition to the east of the Square Mile.
City Wall at Vine Street is — as should be patently obvious — based on Vine Street, a little-regarded road between Aldgate and Tower Hill. Here, beneath a new-build block of student accommodation, sits a sizeable chunk of Roman and medieval wall. It's always been there, of course, but was previously concealed in an office basement or — before that — hidden behind plaster in a Victorian warehouse.
And oh my goodness is it glorious. The developer, with help from Historic England, has done an outstanding job of placing this mural oddity in the spotlight. You can read about the history of the wall at numerous sites along its course, but nowhere does quite so thorough a job as this.
The hunk of ancient masonry isn't the only thing on show. Alongside, you'll find a series of cabinets displaying archaeological finds from the site — everything from potsherds to pipes to an unexplained grave marker from ancient Greece. One highlight is a Roman tile which bears the paw-print of a cat, which must have padded across the tile while it was still drying. Even in those far-removed days, our feline friends lived by their own rules.
I just want to give a special shout-out to whoever wrote the labels. Beautiful job! The pitch is perfect, getting across all the important info while keeping things in a very human, contemplative tone. Too many museums insist on using academic phrasing in their labelling, and I've always found it a real put-off. This is a smashing example of how it should be done.
Already impressed with the experience, I headed up the stairs to find that the exit is built into a very good coffee shop, where I'm now typing these words. Splendid coffee, free wifi and toilet facilities. A time-travelling Roman emperor would surely give it the thumbs-up.
City Wall at Vine Street is free to visit, but you need to book in advance. All images by Matt Brown