Augusta Raurica is a Roman archaeological site and an open-air museum in Switzerland located on the south bank of the Rhine river about 20 km east of Basel near the villages of Augst and Kaiseraugst. It is the oldest known Roman colony on the Rhine.

Ancient history

Augusta Raurica was founded by Lucius Munatius Plancus around 44 BC in the vicinity of a local Gallic tribe, the Rauraci, relatives of the Helvetii. No archaeological evidence from this period has yet been found, leading to the conclusion that, either the settlement of the colony was disturbed by the civil war following the death of Julius Caesar, or that Plancus' colony was actually in the area of modern Basel, not Augst. Successful colonization of the site had to wait for Augustus' conquest of the central Alps around 15 BC. The oldest find to date at Augusta Raurica has been dated to 6 BC by dendrochronology.

During excavations it was determined that the city was founded on a high plateau just south of the Rhine river. Two small rivers, the Ergolz and Violen, have carved a triangle in the plateau, the base of which is about 1 kilometer wide along the base of the Jura Mountains, and the apex points northward toward the Rhine, about 1 kilometer from the base. This point is the site of the Roman castrum, or military fortification. The city is, therefore, well-defended by steep slopes to the north, east, and west.

Later history

By the 2nd century AD, Augusta Raurica was a prosperous commercial trading centre and, in its glory days, the capital of a local Roman province. It is estimated that the population reached approximately 20,000 people. Augusta Raurica prospered between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and exported smoked pork and bacon to other parts of the Roman Empire. The city possessed the typical amenities of a Roman city, an amphitheatre, a main forum, several smaller forums, an aqueduct, a variety of temples, several public baths and the largest Roman theatre north of the Alps, with 8,000 to 10,000 seats. Many of these sites are open to visitors year-round.

In 250 AD, a powerful earthquake damaged a large part of the city. Shortly after, around 260 AD, Alemanni tribes and/or marauding Roman troops destroyed the city. The Romans attempted to maintain their military position by building a fortress on the Rhine, Castrum Rauracense, the walls of which are still partly intact. Augusta Raurica was resettled on a much smaller scale on the site of the castrum. These two settlements form the centers of the modern communities of Augst and Kaiseraugst.

In 1442, these communities were divided along the Ergolz and Violenbach rivers. The western portion was given to Basel, which became a canton of Switzerland in 1501. In 1833, Augst became part of the Canton of Basel-Land. The eastern part became part of Habsburg territories and, to differentiate between the two towns, was renamed Kaiseraugst. Kaiseraugst became part of Switzerland in 1803 after the defeat of the Habsburgs during the Napoleonic Wars.

Augusta Raurica today

Many of the Roman buildings have been discovered and conserved through excavations, and most are open to the public; The amphitheatre, aqueduct, main forum and the theater which forms an architectural unit with the temple across the street.

Several private commercial buildings also have been found (a taberna, a bakery, a potter, and a tile kiln), as well as portions of a sewer. Around 80% of the built-up area has yet to be excavated. Augusta Raurica is the best-preserved Roman city north of the Alps that has not been built-over in medieval or modern times.

The Roman Museum houses the most important finds from the Roman city and presents the history of Augusta Raurica. In the museum, visitors will often find special exhibits, as well as most the significant archaeological find at Augusta Raurica: the silver treasure of Kaiseraugst. This treasure hoard was found in the fortress in 1961-1962, and it is presumed to have once been the property of a commander. The museum also has a reconstruction of a Roman house, with artifacts and reconstructions showing daily domestic and commercial life from the Roman period.

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Details

Founded: 44 BC
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Switzerland

Rating

4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

David Schmid (3 months ago)
Everything is rebuilt and the buildings that are actually roman are either ruins or heavily renovated. Museums is small but interesting.
Alessandro Malatesta (4 months ago)
Surprisingly well kept Roma site. Lots to see and very well explained. I'm from Rome and I can say you get the right feeling.
Dina Dijanović (4 months ago)
Great place which gives feeling being back in ancient Roman city. Super for families with many interesting things to learn for kids. Nice walk around all sights. Museum is great as well.
Colin McConkey (5 months ago)
Nice place to get a flavour of Ancient Roman civilization. There are better and more comprehensive places. The museum had quite a few exhibits and written commentary in 3 language.
Chris Schultz (10 months ago)
Excellent museum. Well laid out and lots of very interesting items that are well explained in three languages. I enjoyed the focus on families and everyday life depicted in both the museum and the reproduction of a Roman style house of the period. The ruins are mostly refurbished but very interesting nevertheless. A must visit if you are in Basel. Easy bike ride from the city.
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