Plans to reveal Roman gateway buried for 800 years under York's walls

FOR centuries it has lain buried under a medieval rampart as part of York’s great city walls.

John Oxley, City Archeologist for City of York Council, near Lord Mayors Walk, where a dig is planned to hopefully unearth the Roman Porta Decumana Picture: James Hardisty
John Oxley, City Archeologist for City of York Council, near Lord Mayors Walk, where a dig is planned to hopefully unearth the Roman Porta Decumana Picture: James Hardisty

But now archaeologists have revealed ambitious plans to dig into a previously unexcavated section of the walls - with the aim of unearthing a buried Roman gateway.

Ahead of the second City Walls festival this weekend, city archaeologist John Oxley said they were hoping to do the dig in three years’ time when a number of cultural and historic bodies will celebrate key anniversaries.

If the project does go ahead, it will be the first time in nearly 800 years the gateway - the Porta Decumana - will be exposed.

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Meeting visitors as they enter the Yorkshire Museum in York is Mars, the Roman god of war Picture: Mike Cowling

Experts are also wanting to look further at what lies beneath the gateway in an attempt to answer a huge question about York’s history - what was there just before AD 71 when 5,000 men of the Ninth Legion marched from Lincoln and built a fort on around 50 acres of land near the river Ouse.

Mr Oxley said there were some “very interesting undulations” on the ramparts on Lord Mayor’s Walk “which hint at the possible survival” of the gateway.

He said: “It is possible that the Porta Decumana is reasonably well preserved within the rampart on Lord Mayor’s Walk.

“Basically it was the back door into the legionary fortress, a military and administrative hub in the north of England from the late 1st century AD to the early 5th century.

City archaeologist John Oxley also hopes to discover what lies underneath the Roman gateway Picture: James Hardisty

It was used as a gateway through to 1200,to 1250, when it went out of use and was replaced by a gate at Monk’s Bar and then was buried or dismantled.

“I’m hoping that we would be able to peel away the grass and soil of the medieval rampart and find perhaps the gateway that survives to first storey level and the remains of a passageway running through the middle.”

Examination beneath could show whether there was a settlement there before the Romans came and obliterated it.

Five of the most remarkable archaeological finds in Yorkshire in the last five years500 years of creativity - is Hebden Bridge still the 'Left Bank of Yorkshire'?He said: “What we might get a glimpse of is if there are features and deposits that predate the construction of the Roman legionary fortress.

The York Walls festival will be held this weekend in York. Pictured: Rebecca Spencer, and Holly Graham, York Walls Assistance, for the event. Pic: James Hardisty

“Was it just part of the agrarian landscape or was there something else there? Was it a gathering spot for different tribes in the area - it is on the boundary between the Brigantes and the Parisi.

“Is there something here in this place that they used as part of a process of meeting and exchange? We simply don’t know.”

The idea is to get as many locals involved as possible in a series of digs, including reopening trenches excavated by the Royal Commission in 1972.

2022 is not only the 50th anniversary of a volume dedicated to York’s defences by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, but is also the 200th anniversary of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society and the 75th anniversary of York Civic Trust. A workshop has already taken place to talk about how to celebrate “York 2022”.

York Walls Festival this weekend

Organisers are expecting up to 3,000 people to turn up to the free York Walls festival celebrating the city’s medieval walls.

A map can be picked up in the Museum Gardens from 9.30am to 4.30pm, on Saturday and Sunday.

Fishergate Postern Tower on Piccadilly will be open both days from 10am to 4pm, featuring finds from a dig last December.

And Red Tower on Foss Islands Road will host a community barbeque on Saturday.