Whilst writing my novel Roman Mask, I was inspired by many of the great ancient sites that can be found all around Europe and the Mediterranean basin. This is by no means a complete list of all the wonderful sites that are in existence, but here are a few that inspired me…
Rome, Italy. How could I start anywhere else? The ancient city that was at the heart of her Empire has to be on everyone’s list of places to visit if they are interested in Ancient Rome. So much still remains and is easily accessible in this fantastic city. The Colosseum was incredible, but as it was built later than my novel was set I couldn’t use it for research, but it still gives an amazing perspective on the sheer power and dominance that Rome held over the world at the time. The Augustan palace on the top of the Palatine Hill nearby was very useful for me, and stretches all the way to the ancient forum at the centre of Ancient Rome. But it was when I looked out from the palace, on the top of the hill, down to the Circus Maximus that had the greatest effect on me. I suddenly could imagine the chariots racing round the great oblong ring, pulled by teams of galloping horses, surrounded by the excited and jubilant crowd.
Hadrian’s Wall, United Kingdom. From the heart of the Empire, to its very fringes – this is where it all started for me. Long summer holidays spent in Northumberland, in my grandmother’s cottage situated near Hadrian’s Wall, had a profound effect on me growing up. Visiting the ancient forts along the wall, the museums, walking along the Wall in the beautiful countryside, all combined to fascinate me and pull me into the ancient Roman world. George R R Martin claims to have had a similar inspiration for his excellent fantasy series Game of Thrones, so I’m in good company at least!
Pompeii, Italy. If Rome was useful for getting a feel for the period of history, Pompeii brought it to a new level. Even though the city was destroyed slightly after my novel is set, it was still a mine of information as so much of the ancient city has been preserved by the volcanic ash of Vesuvius, that it is simply breath-taking. The murals on the walls retain such vivid clarity, and the streets are crammed full of historic detail. One of the large houses in Pompeii became the basis of my character’s grand home on the Caelian Hill in Rome, and the gymnasium featured also, but it was the brothels with their lewd frescoes and the graffiti on the streets that helped give me a real feel for the people that inhabited the city. I was blown away by Pompeii, just as most visitors are.
Herculaneum, Italy. Just the other side of Mount Vesuvius is another ancient Roman town. However, if you think that this would just be the same as Pompeii you’d be wrong. This is because Herculaneum was destroyed and then preserved by boiling mud, rather than volcanic ash. The scalding mud unfortunately destroyed the murals and frescos that make Pompeii so memorable, but the mud actually does a better job of keeping the entire structure of the Roman homes intact, so that entire streets, crammed full of perfectly preserved houses, complete with widows, roofs, and doorways can be explored and you need to pinch yourself to remind yourself that this was all built two thousand years before.
Taormina, Sicily – Italy. They still hold performances in the ancient Greek theatre in Taormina (it was later rebuilt by the Romans for Gladiatorial shows) that dominates the beautiful Sicilian town to the North of the island. The dramatic setting, over the black cliffs and the beautiful blue sea that surrounds the town made quite an impression on me when I visited it a few years ago. I was desperate to try and incorporate the island into my novel somehow, but found I couldn’t as the story was already taking my character from Rome to Germany, so a trip down to Sicily really wasn’t on the route. I did however, make my main character’s father the governor of the ancient province, so there will be plenty of scope to bring any future novels down to this stunning and dramatic Island.
Patara, Turkey. Often overlooked by those with an interest in ancient Rome, Patara has a special place in my heart. I was staying at the nearby Turkish resort of Kalkan, and took one of the daily buses from there to the beautiful beach in the nearby protected area of Patara. To my amazement, when I got there I found an entire Roman settlement still remained behind the beach, being preserved by the sand that covered the city, which has only been recently being excavated in modern times. A gladiator’s colosseum, theatre, and countless temples, streets, and homes lay waiting for me to explore, accompanied only by the local goats – such a contrast to the crowds at Pompeii and Rome. Exploring an Ancient Roman city alone is such an amazing experience, and I don’t think I will ever forget that day.
Kalkriese, Germany. As Germany was never fully occupied by the Romans you’ll not find many Roman ruins in its interior (you will at its borders) so instead you can visit the museum set near the archaeological site of the battle of Teutoburg that is at the heart of my novel. You won’t find any ancient ruins, but they have made a reconstruction of the wicker palisades that had such an impact in the battle, and the museum is full of the archaeological artifacts found at the battle-site including the famous Kalkriese mask that features so prominently on the front cover of my novel. You can find an English version of their website here if you want to find out more about the battle-site itself.
Palmyra, Syria. I have left this one to last, because I have never visited it myself, and now may never get the chance. My father visited it years ago, and he tells me that it is the most stunning of all the ancient cities – high praise from a man who has visited them all. Since Islamic states occupation of the Syrian city, any visits are now impossible and we don’t know how they will treat the city under the occupation. Recent examples of how they treat ancient monuments doesn’t bode well for the ancient city, so we can only hope that in this case they leave it intact. It is an example to us all, how precious and fragile these sites are, and how easily we can lose them forever….
Okay, I know I haven’t even touched the surface of all the ancient Roman sites that can be visited, and I apologise if I have omitted your favourite! If you think any more should join this list, post them here…