The Chester Amphitheatre
There are plans afoot I hear for the Chester Roman amphitheatre. That is to say that the listed house (Dee House) that you can see in the background to the picture above, and which covers one side of what would have been the amphitheatre, is now the subject of an application to "redevelop". It raise all kinds of issues about how best to incorporate the ancient heritage into the modern city-scape.
It goes without saying that if there is any new building, it should be properly investigated with the trowel first. But what then? One idea is that it should become a heritage site, and we should let people see the other side of the amphitheatre, which has always been covered (and there is a petition more or less to this effect here). My heart is with them, but my head wonders a bit about how much heritage sites (as simple sites) can be a popular and lucrative focus of local tourism in themselves.
I think that it is interesting, at least, that the Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester has not made its visitor targets. They were aiming at 100,000 people a year and have managed 80,000. That is maybe a victory. It has certainly brought a load of visitors, and money into Leicester, even if it hasn't met the target. But how much longevity it has in the long term remains to be seen. I still predict that in 15 years the visitor centre will be up for the highest bidder. But I would be very happy to be proved wrong,
I would like to think that there are different alternatives -- that the Roman or other heritage can be preserved in a variety of different ways, which gives open access but doesn't simply create a ruin (though I do love ruins). I am not sure that, much as I have come to terms with the reconstruction/preservation of the London amphitheatre under the Guildhall (above), that it is the model for the future. I suspect that the London amphtheatre is largely used for corporate events in the city. But it does give a version of how you might think wider about what a heritage site might be. I stayed in a reasonably cheap hotel in Sofia which had the Roman amphitheatre built into its basement and spa...
Could we have half the Chester amphitheatre preserved in a nice, open access bar... or...
I should say that I feel quite bonded to Chester. It was my shopping destination of choice when I was a young teenager and I was occasionally taken to the retail heaven of Chester by my mum. And my great friend Graham Webster, a wonderful Romano-British archaeologist, was once the curator at the Grosvenor Museum there. When you look back at your career and at who helped you, for me Graham stands out. I first learned about archaeology from him and he gave me more responsibility on an excavation than I had in a way earned -- and he taught me to think about what archaeological evidence might mean, and in many ways he taught me to grow up.