Saturday, October 4, 2014

Walking Another Wall

Westward we traveled to our first stop in Chester, the county town of mainly rural Chesire. Chester has bits of different ages splattered around; full Roman remnants, half-timbered Tudor houses and shops, medieval churches, Georgian circles and rows of houses, and Victorian architecture of the Town Hall. 

Chester was founded by a Roman legion on the River Dee in 1st century C.E. as it was a good  position to see both northward and westward. The city reached its pinnacle as a port in the 13th and 14th centuries. The River Dee was deep enough at one-time that seafaring ships were able to sail from the sea up the river to dock in the city. Though its purpose as a main port declined as the river gradually silted up, the railways brought activity back to the area. 

Due to its Roman founding as a fortified city, Chester is almost entirely encircled by Roman walls, which are walkable (like York's.) One of the entries to the wall is under the Eastgate Clock, which stands on the site of the original entrance to the Roman fortress Deva Victrix. The Clock was erected and dedicated to Queen Victoria for her Diamond Jubilee in 1896.  At the wall's southwestern corner is a fragment of the Norman Castle William the Conqueror built to launch his campaigns on Wales.

Walking the walls affords spectacular views of 18th century buildings, the Welsh mountains, medieval fragments of Chester Castle, various Roman ruins, and the Cathedral. Chester Cathedral was founded in 1092 a a Benedictine abbey and made an Anglican cathedral church in 1541, Chester's cathedral has a range of monastic buildings - cloisters, refectory, chapterhouse, and medieval woodcarving in the choir stall. The sweetest part of the entire Cathedral was the small Chapel of St. Anselm, the abbott's private chapel, a floor about the nave and a peaceful retreat from the bustle below. A plaster ceiling and stonework from the 17th century accentuates the 12th century chapel. 

An especially medieval aspect of Chester are the Rows, which are tiered shops, one level at street level and the others stacked on top along galleried balconies, a multi-level out-door mall  along cobblestone streets. Modern stores have now taken up residence in the Rows, continuing the shopping tradition. Many of the buildings are half-timbered, some dating to the 13th century up to the 17th century. The first reference to these shops as "The Rows" in writing was in 1357. One of the shops in the Rows called "Three Old Arches" is probably the earliest identified shop front in England. 

One of the most unique things about Chester, besides the practically intact Roman walls is that it also has Britain's largest Roman amphitheater. The 20th Legion used it for military training and entertainment like classical boxing, gladiatorial combat, and bull-baiting. It was discovered in 1929 and further excavated 2007 to 2009.

Chester has integrated the identities of its history into its modern day. It doesn't take much to find the charm of Chester. After all, it is still a destination after it was settled 2,000 years ago. 

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