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

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Manfred Chaponda (2 months ago)
Augusta Rauca is rich with Roman history. It's very well preserved and has beautiful surroundings. The placarded information of the history is very well presented. The surrounding area is very quite and ideal for gentle strolls while appreciating the beauty of nature.
Daniel Marbach (3 months ago)
Absolutely fantastic. History explained with passion and wonderful actors this week. Also the workshop for the kids are well done!
Robin Keuning (4 months ago)
Great visit for a few hours. I'd suggest avoiding the over-priced museum as there's enough to see walking around the area
Trices Trices (5 months ago)
Beautiful place. Nice to imagine older days where people walked these regions in the ancient rome. Must see if you're into hostory
tom waugh (7 months ago)
For the history enthusiast or to simply enjoy a relaxing and informative half day, you won't be disappointed by visiting Augusta Raurica. Spread over a large area of a former Roman town, it offers everything from stunning views to fascinating history. Everything from ancient temples, a Coliseum, the arena where the gladiators fought, to buildings showing the everyday life of the Romans. This is a fascinating place and young and old will really enjoy it. There is no entrance charge.
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