How To Pretend You're Living In Londinium

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 21 months ago
How To Pretend You're Living In Londinium

Ah, for the good old days of London. No, not the swinging 60s or the industrious days of the Victorians, but the early ADs — a time when Caesar and his successors were knocking up amphitheatres, and knocking back vino. That lot might be long gone, you can still get a taste for the life of an ancient Roman in London today. Allow us to whisk you back to Londinium.  

Meat is baked in hay at Roma, just like the Romans used to make

Feast like a Roman

Padded booths and mood lighting are a decidedly un-ancient-Roman touch, but the cuisine at Roma [pdf] takes its lead from the past. Dishes like hay-smoked mackerel with sorrel and anchovy relish; and hare & pistachio terrine with fig chutney, offer a portal back to the days of togas, via your taste buds. Every wine on the list has been traced back to the very same vineyards throughout Europe that the ancient Romans would have drunk from, and here's a bonus: the restaurant is situated where Londinium once stood. Fill your (Roman) boots.

Watch gladiators in combat

Plaudits to the Museum of London for bringing gladiators kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Guildhall Yard — the site of London's original amphitheatre — goes all Ridley Scott on us, with men and women of steel donning helmets and coming to blows, in the hope they'll get the thumbs-up from the emperor. This is one time and place it's OK to bay for blood. Beforehand, head downstairs to see remnants of the actual Roman amphitheatre.

Gladiators still fight in London (albeit not to the death anymore)

Go to a Roman orgy

When they weren't busy pounding the bejesus out of one other, the denizens of Londoninium were, er pounding the bejesus out of one another. There's all sorts of naughtiness a modern day Londoner can get up to in this city, but for toga-swathed debauchery on a near-Caliguan level, go to one of the monthly all-day orgies at The Glory on Kingsland Road. Grapes are munched, wine is slurped, there's a gladiator striptease, and Roman orgy dark room. If you're skeptical about Londinium having a thriving gay scene, we refer you to Peter Ackroyd's Queer City, in which he talks of the Romans being "intensely phallocratic".  

Statue of the Emperor Trajan, London Wall. It's not clear what links he had with Londinium, but anyway, here he is.

See some of the original Londinium

From the London Wall trail that skirts parts of the ancient city, to the remains of Crofton Park Villa, London is peppered — if not exactly richly — with bona fide Roman architecture (if you're disappointed there's not more of it, have a word with the statue of Boudica at Westminster — she razed Londinium to the ground). The Temple of Mithras — where Roman soldiers may once have bathed in blood — will reopen at the same time as the new Bloomberg headquarters. In the meantime, visit the bathhouse and villa beneath Lower Thames Street, and the fine mosaics at the British Museum. Here's an in-depth article we wrote about exploring Roman treasures in London. This self-guided walk is worth a couple of hours of your weekend, too.

Porchester Spa, where you can moonlight as a sort of art nouveau Roman

Bathe in the buff

The ancient Roman bathhouses of the city have long evaporated (and some are Tudor fakes). But the indulgence of bathing in the buff is still available across the city: from the nudist Sunday swims in Bloomsbury and spit 'n' sawdust steam sessions at Porchester Spa; to kinkier hangouts such as Rio's in Kentish Town and Dagenham's Paradise Spa. A visit to the latter two may end up falling into the 'orgy' category, if your luck's in.

Last Updated 01 June 2017