Chester is undoubtedly the best-preserved walled city in England and one of the richest in medieval architectural. The town centre has a distinctive old world charm, with galleried streets filled with timber-framed buildings of white plaster and blackened beams. No other town in Britain conjures up a more vivid atmosphere of old England.
One of the many Tudor style buildings in Chester
The site was first settled in AD 79 by the Romans, on a sandstone spur north of the River Dee. The 20th Legion (Valeria Victrix) was stationed there to protect the fertile valleys of the north-west from marauding Welsh tribes and sea pirates. The original fort was named Deva but Chester's modern name is taken from the Latin 'castra', meaning a fortified camp. Situated near Grosvenor Park, to the east of the town, is the largest Roman amphitheatre so far unearthed in Britain, measuring 314 ft by 286 ft.
Chester expanded into an important trading centre and port during the 14th century, when additional fortifications and towers were added to its walls, among them the Water Tower and Eastgate. The Water Tower, built in 1322, was once lapped by water but now stands several hundred yards from the river, in the city's northwest corner. Eastgate supports an ornate clock, added in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, which is now one of Chester's most popular landmarks.
Chester's galleried (two-tiered raised wooden walkways) and Tudor style buildings, known as The Rows, originally date from the 14th century, although many of the frontages are Victorian facsimiles dating from the second half of the 19th century. Northgate Street is home to two of Chester's ancient coaching inns; the 15th century Blue Bell, considered to be the city's oldest domestic building and the 16th century Pied Bull, which still displays a board listing the various destinations that can be reached by stage coach.
A reminder of Chester's violent past is the Bridge of Sighs, which crosses the canal outside Northgate. It was so called because condemned felons crossed it en-route from the medieval dungeons in the rock beneath the gate, to hear their last church service in the Chapel of Little St John.
A rather more lighthearted legacy is located in the south-east corner of the walls, where six short flights of stone stairs were built in 1785, known as the Wishing Steps. According to tradition a would-be wisher must run to the top, back to the bottom, then back up again without drawing breath, to have their wish fulfilled.
The ancient Chester Mystery Plays, once performed in the Abbey Square, against the imposing backdrop of the Abbey Gateway, have recently been revived. Previously banned by Tudor Puritans, they are now performed every couple of years on their traditional site and in the city streets, attracting spectators from all over the world.
Tourist Information Centre:
|Town Hall Square, Northgate Street, Chester CH1 2HJ - Tel: 0845 6477868|
Dewa (the original name of Chester's the Roman fortress), springs back to life again with reconstructed Roman streets, including a granary, barracks, bath-house, taverna, market stalls and a Roman Galley. The archaeology gallery contains exhibits of Roman, Saxon and Medieval remains discovered beneath Chester. Lots of hands on activities for children.
Opening times: all year, daily Feb-Nov 9am to 4/5pm, (Closed Xmas & NY)
Location: Pierpoint Lane, Chester, CH1 1NL - Tel: 01244 343407 - Website
Facilities: Gift shop
Located in Grosvenor Street, it has a large collection of Roman artifacts, and Anglo Saxon coins that were minted in the city.
Excavations in Vicar's Lane, Chester have revealed the remains of two successive stone-built amphitheatres. The largest of its kind to be discovered in Britain and once capable of seating 7,000 spectators. The site, which is open to the public, is only partially excavated, as much of the area extends under existing buildings.
Originally erected by the Romans the walls were strengthened at the beginning of the 10th century into the impressive 2 miles of red-sandstone ramparts and towers that form the present city walls. They remain the most complete in the country and provide an excellent 2-mile walk as well as fine views of the town and the river.
An area in the centre of town, dating from the 14th century, in which shops open on to balustraded walkways. The distinctive style of The Rows is thought to have developed because the early inhabitants built their homes both in front and on top of the old Roman buildings. Today these galleried arcades, which are reached by steps from the road, form traffic-free shopping centres that dominate Watergate Street, Eastgate Street and Bridge Street.
Several half-timbered Tudor houses in a similar style to The Rows, notably Bishop Lloyd's House, God's Providence House and Old Leche House, have rich carvings cut deep into the blackened beams.
The castle began as a simple timber building in 1069. Henry III later added stone ramparts and towers, however, most of the outer walls were torn down in the late 18th century to make way for a group of buildings designed by the architect Thomas Harrison, including the castle's Grand Entrance and the city's Crown Court.
The weathered red sandstone cathedral, at the heart of the city, was built over the foundations of a 10th century church which contained the relics of St Werburgh, a Mercian princess who died in AD 707. It was a Benedictine abbey until its dissolution in 1540, when it became a cathedral. A grotesque carving, known as the Chester Imp, leers out from the north side of the nave - a reminder of the nightmarish way in which the medieval Church sought to drive off evil spirits.
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