Cirencester, a market town in Gloucestershire, is the largest town in the Cotswolds and has one of the richest and most elaborate histories. This is a prime destination for tourists fascinated with ancient Rome, as Cirencester was one of the two largest Roman towns in Britain. The city is situated along the River Churn and during the age of empire it was known as Corinium Dobunnorum.
Corinium was profitable in trading wool and other goods. When the Romans arrived on the site, the former Iron Age fort was converted into a Roman city complete with a forum and basilica. A partially excavated site southwest of the town reveals a Roman amphitheater. During Saxon times the same site became the scene of the Battle of Cirencester between the Mercians and West Saxons in 628 AD. Norman times were dominated by power struggles between the townspeople and the Abbot until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 when all of the Abbeys were destroyed. The townspeople were still frustrated with their lack of autonomy in the Tudor era, but continued to thrive on industrial production of wool and cloth. The wealthy merchants put their money into building a large wool church known as the “Cathedral of the Cotswolds.”
In 1643, 300 people were killed when the Royalists and Parliamentarians came head to head in the English Civil War in Cirencester’s streets. Charles II stayed a night in Cirencester while making his escape to France.
In the years since, Cirencester has only continued to grow as a market town. Canal and railroad access helped the town to grow in earlier times and later the inclusion of major roadways brought trade in and out of the city. While visiting Cirencester you can enjoy the town’s many different outdoor markets including the Street Market on Mondays and Fridays, the Cattle Market on Tuesdays and the Antiques Market on Fridays. Each year the city also hosts a Festival of Arts.
Those curious about Rome can discover more about the city’s Roman roots by visiting the Corinium Museum. Just outside of town, the Chedworth Roman Villa can give visitors a taste of what daily life was like on a typical Roman estate.
Perhaps the most famous attraction in Cirencester is Cirencester Park. Just west of the city, this cultivated forest style garden spans more than 3000 acres. The entrance contains a castellated structure erected in 1898. It served as the headquarters of the 4th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment. The building is open to the public, though the mansion on the grounds is not.
The Park was designed by Earl Allen Bathurst in conjunction with his friends Alexander Pope and Stephen Switzer. They developed the park over a period of decades to have a natural yet geometric appearance and a peaceful environment. The park is open to pedestrians, dogs and horseback riders. Many events are held in the park including the Cotswold Show.
Another popular tourist destination for a family fun day out is the Cotswold Country Park & Beach which is just outside of Cirencester, the park offers a beach, water sports and water activities, walks, crazy golf and much more.
As the Cotswold’s largest town and one of its oldest, Cirencester is certainly a fascinating place to visit and discover ancient history.
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