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Ruins of Aquincum civil town, the amphitheaters, aquaeductus, public baths, Hercules villa, and the governor's palace bring back the history of the Roman Empire

Budapest Aquincum Museum

Address: 3rd district, Szentendrei út 139

How to get there: HÉV (white-green suburb train, Békásmegyer-Szentendre direction) to Aquincum

Open: 9am-5pm Apr 15-30 and Oct 1-31, 9am-6pm May 1 Sep 30, closed Nov 1-Apr 14

 

When traveling on the busy road leading out to Szentendre, one cannot restrain from a look of awe on the Aquincum Museum's relics, dating back to the period when the Romans conquered the region in around 35BC. The open-air museum covers a rather large area, and additional ruins can be found in other parts of the city.

 

The Museum is over 100 years old. Preservation of the ruins started with a municipal resolution in 1878. A year later, a special commission identified the areas to begin systematic research. Excavations started on the so-called "Csiga domb - snail hill" in 1880. Additional work started at the "Papföld - Priest Ground" site in the following year, gradually revealing the center of the civilian town of old Aquincum. Following 1882, further excavations were sponsored by the city council.

 

The structure of the Aquincum Civil Town was greatly influenced by its previous architectural history. Typical elements include: the limes road running from north to south, the aqueducts built along the western side, the oval amphitheater, located outside the city wall to the north, and gates in the city wall, where it intersected with the main streets. Irregularities in the line of the city wall, reinforced by bastilles, may be attributed to the network of drainage ditches and some buildings that were probably erected before the wall's construction.

 

Ruins of the Aquincum Civil Town, exhibited in the park around the museum, represent the excavated ca. one third of the settlement, characterizing the town at the turn of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. An industrial district surrounded the town itself. Pottery workshops operated along the main roads and the Danube waterway.

 

The Civil Town amphitheater is located at the intersection of Szentendrei Street and Zsófia Street. It is the smaller of the two amphitheaters in Aquincum, built outside the city wall around the middle of the 2nd century, AD. It has an outer and an inner wall, the space in between was filled with pounded earth. Two arched gates provided entrance to the visitors. The wedge-shaped sectors were able to seat four to seven thousand people. The program included theater performances, sports events, and animal fights, combined with the participation of gladiators, as well as public events of major importance, such as political rallies, municipal celebrations, and speeches delivered during the emperor's visit.

 

Aquaeductus, the water conduit, was built in the first half of the 2nd century, collecting water from springs in today's Római fürdő (Roman Bath), into basins surrounded by walls. The water tower formed a one-story high water reservoir, which was subsequently channeled into a drainage system leading to the south, on top of an arch-supported pediment. The conduit was approximately 5 km long, carrying drinking water all the way to the military amphitheater, located on Nagyszombat street. Distribution and storage tanks were built at various sections, allowing the collection of water supplies. The restored section of the aquaeductus is located on the eastern side of Szentendrei Street, between Aquincum and Kaszásdülő.

 

Thermae Maiores, the public baths of the legionary fortress, are excavated almost in their entirety. The ruins may be visited in the Bath Museum, opening from the Flórián Square pedestrian subway. The bath section included a gymnasium, pools with cold, lukewarm and hot water, a sweat chamber and spacious, centrally heated halls, where the soldiers could pursue all sorts of physical activities, as well as body cleansing.

 

The Hercules villa is located in Meggyfa Street. It belongs to the row of decorated palaces, baths, sanctuaries and habitations, standing along the riverbank, across from the Governor's Palace. The central core of the building was built during the first half of the 2nd century. At the beginning of the third century, when official administration was moved to the "officers' houses" in the Military Town, the building was expanded, equipped with floor-heating and decorated with mosaic floors. The latter are unique in many ways. Two southern rooms preserved details of a Pannonian made geometric framing motif. A third southern room preserved a good part of an emblem in the central field of the floor, featuring a fight between Hercules and Nessos the Centaur. This mosaic was most likely made in an Alexandrian workshop, and it is the only known imported mosaic, not only in Aquincum, but also anywhere in Pannonia. The surviving section of the floor of the tablinum shows Amor, offering a bunch of grapes to an approaching tigress. The mosaic, covering the apodyterium floor, is almost intact, featuring a pair of boxers, the winner assuming a victorious posture, while his bloody headed opponent lays collapsed on the floor. The excavation is not yet completed; most of the restored specimens are on display in the permanent exhibit of the Aquincum Museum.

 

The Governor's Palace was the seat of legatus Augusti in Aquincum. The divisions of the province of Pannonia in AD 106 greatly contributed to the development of the Military Town. The Governor's Palace was built on today's Hajógyár Sziget (Island of Ship Construction). Its location across the Danube, the style and the size demonstrated the power and monumentality of Rome. After early discoveries, the ruins were reburied, and a shipyard functioned in the area until the beginning of the 1990's. Today's findings suggest that the palace probably connected to the mainland, that is, modern-day Óbuda, by a bridge. Three construction periods were defined. The earliest buildings were erected at the beginning of the 2nd century, when Hadrianus, who later became an emperor, served as the first governor of Pannonia Inferior. The largest scale constructions were undertaken at the end of the 2nd and during the 3rd century. In the last third of the 3rd century, the palace had to be abandoned, while water level increased in the Danube. The building included a central, inner courtyard, surrounded by a total of almost 100 rooms on four sides. Elite rooms of the representative unit were located on the eastern side; a reception hall lay in the middle, with floor-heated rooms being symmetrically aligned along its two sides. An inner port, habitation quarters, service rooms, stores and bathing facilities with a water tower were built on the outskirts. The shrine of the emperor cult stood in the middle of the inner courtyard. The Aquincum Museum displays a fragmented statue of an emperor, discovered here.

 

The larger amphitheatre, that of the Military Town, belongs to the group of earth amphitheatres. Twenty-four U-Shaped wall units, as well as the podium's wall were rebuilt by stone around AD 145, by the engineering unit of legion II Adiutrix, during the reign of the Emperor Antoninus Pius. The low-laying area had most likely been used as exercise grounds by the Roman military as early as the AD 1st century. The stand, which may have accommodated as many as 10-13 thousand people, could be approached by an arched stairway.

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