A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Off The Grid
Volume 65 Number 5, September/October 2012
Roman ruins might not be what tourists expect to see in Budapest, Hungary, famous for its medieval architecture and atmosphere. The Romans arrived at the stretch of the Danube that divides Buda from Pest in the first century A.D. and founded the town of Aquincum. The town and river served as defenses against the tribes beyond. In A.D. 106, the town became the capital of Lower Pannonia under the rule of Trajan, and consisted of a fortress, a military town, and a civil town a few miles north. At its peak, Aquincum had more than 50,000 inhabitants, making it one of the largest towns on the Roman frontier. By the end of the third century A.D., under constant attack from across the river, the civil town was abandoned. The fortress and military town survived until the fifth century A.D. According to Orsolya Láng, archaeologist and deputy head of the Aquincum Museum, the civil town site, in particular, is a rarity because, unlike many Roman sites, it was never built over.
The civil town grew quickly at the beginning of the second century, with the construction of public and private baths, aqueducts, an amphitheater, a street system, and town walls. The eastern part of the ancient town is open to the public, including the forum complex, a great bath with a well-preserved floor-heating system, a sanctuary dedicated to Fortuna Augusta, a row of shops, and the market building. Behind these public structures are the remains of the homes of town magistrates, decorated with wall paintings and even mosaics. New attractions have recently been introduced in the archaeological park, including a model of a Roman house to replace one that was destroyed during World War II. There are also three "chronoscopes," which allow visitors to see the ruins as they used to appear, a Roman-themed playground for children, and a room with computer games where visitors can virtually fight as gladiators.
While you’re there