Chichester’s Novium museum nears completion

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When future emperor Vespasian marched from Chichester in 43 AD at the head of the Augusta II legion, playing a key role in the conquest of Britain, the area was largely fields as far as the eye could see.

But the grand achievements he would lay the foundations for in Rome would be echoed by a cultural revolution in West Sussex, as the civilised ways of the Romans were embraced in our county town.

By the close of the 1st century AD, Chichester had seen the construction of a civic centre featuring an amphitheatre near the city walls, army supply base at Fishbourne (which would later transform into the palace), a central forum and lavish public baths.

It’s the latter, first unearthed in the 1970s, which will form the centrepiece of the city’s new multi-million pound Novium museum – named after the Roman settlement of Noviomagus Reginorum on which it stands.

Many artefacts from this period will be on display as part of the new facility’s massive collection of more than 350,000 items being painstakingly transferred to the new site over the next few months.

As museum manager Tracey Clark explained, the move has been the biggest it has ever undertaken and has presented a number of logistical challenges, but the team is confident these will be overcome.

She said: “We are creating a vibrant museum for the community and there will be a great deal of public consultation as we want people to feel it really is theirs.

“This is not just something for Chichester, it’s there for the whole district and it will be a very special place.”

Explaining the exhibits, she revealed the museum would be taking a themed approach to its wealth of fascinating collections across the strikingly-designed three-storey building.

Among its star attractions is the Jupiter Stone, a sculptural base discovered during West Street archaeological digs in the 1930s, which will find a home near where it once stood nearly 2,000 years ago.

Novium museum officer Anooshka Rawden believed the new building would have a major positive impact on the city and felt the Roman baths formed a fantastic entrance to it.

She said: “Leisure was very important to Romans and their baths were something that marked them out from barbarians.

“The wonderful thing about the new museum is it’s a real asset to the tourism package of Chichester and will give people a real experience of Chichester’s history.”

Beyond objects from its recent archaeological work, the museum will focus on a wide range of periods.

It will span its Saxon, Norman and medieval heritage through to comparatively-recent Georgian and Victorian eras which are still very much interwoven in today’s cityscape.

There will be a number of other resources including a dedicated research room.

For the full feature on the museum see this week’s Chichester Observer, out now.