Segontium Roman Fort

Segontium Roman Fort (photo by Anne-Lise)

Although construction of the present Caernarfon Castle began in 1283 the town has been fortified for much longer, being first founded as a fort town by the Romans as early as AD 77 in order to make the best of its defensive situation at the mouth of the River Seiont and surrounded by mountainous countryside. Built on much higher ground than the castle in the town, Segontium affords superb views of the Menai strait, the channel of water between mainland Wales and the island of Anglesey. Like Caernarfon Castle it was build to be the administrative centre of North Wales, allowing the conquering forces (this time the Romans) to maintain order over the native people.

The fort later took on a role in Welsh myth and legend that has been recorded in the famous Mabinogion collection of tales. In it a great Roman general, Magnus Maximus or Macsen Wledig in Welsh, had a dream of the most beautiful land in the world surrounded by mountains, a mighty river that led to the sea and an island. Here there was a fortress town, and in this fortress town a king and his daughter, the most beautiful woman in the world. On waking the Emperor sent his best advisors to find the place, and the girl, and after many years of searching they eventually discovered that the beautiful land was modern day Caernarfon. The story then follows history as Magnus Maximus besieges Rome and takes his rightful place as its Emperor with the help of soldiers he had recruited from this area in the North of Wales.

One of the most interesting features of Segontium is the Caernarfon Mithraeum, a temple to the Roman God Mithras that has been discovered on the site. Below ground here are the remains of various rooms in which devotees would receive the mysterious rites of Mithras. The temples were built below ground and without windows in order to keep the teachings and rituals of the religions a secret. However, like the rest of Segontium, little is visible to the visitor. The site where the Mithraeum once stood is marked and the rest is largely down to the strength of your imagination.

Unfortunately for visitors, although entry is free to all the visitor centre and small Roman museum are now closed due to budget cuts. Other than that it’s a nice place to have a picnic, redolent with the history of nearly two-thousand years. It is open every day of the year apart from Christmas Eve, Day, Boxing Day and New Years between 10.00am and 4.00pm. Once inside Segontium, the only thing that you can see (aside from various plaques and signs) is the low remains of foundations for walls in a field at the top of a hill.  As such this attraction may not be suitable for every family and will perhaps be best left either to history buffs with an interest in all things Roman, or on a sunny day for any family who might think it a hill on which to have a picnic.