Closely connected to Hadrian's Wall, Vercovicium is the best preserved fort of the auxiliary Roman forts defending the Wall and the northern border of the Roman Empire. At first, the wall was intended to have forts for soldiers at some distance to the south, but soon after construction of the wall started, it was decided that forts should be integrated into the wall. Vercovicium was built overlying turret 36B and the Broad Wall foundation. Outside the fort, outside the southern gate, a sizeable civil settlement or vicus was established. The shape of the fort is like a cardgame card: a rectangle with rounded edges. Inside, it had not only barracks, but also an infirmary, a bathhouse and storage for supplies.
Entrance to the grounds of Housesteads Roman Fort, as Vercovicium is called now, is through a very small museum, basically one room behind the ticket counter and souvenir shop. It has some good pictures of the area from the sky, allowing the visitor to leave with an idea of the outline of what she or he will see shortly. It was about to rain when I opened the wooden fence door. Dark clouds gathered from all directions, floating low above the open landscape that lay ahead of me. As I followed the outer wall of the fort, towards the southern gate, I wondered how the Romans must have liked the climate in their Britannia province.
Some parts of the Roman fort of Vercovicium, as Housesteads is also called, are well preserved and easy to recognize, but in other places only the bare outline can be seen where once there have been structures. Towards the south-east corner, I saw Roman latrines, supposedly the best preserved of the kind in all of Britain. A drawing left little to the imagination of how the Romans went about their daily human routine here. Some of the barracks can be easily recognized, as is the granary, the infirmary and the north gate. This gave a perfect view towards the north, the terrain of the enemy of the Romans. It is here that you realize how formidable a defence this fort with the wall must have been: the open moors, the rolling hills left few alternatives to potential invaders, considering the wall extended to both sides of the island, with ample soldiers to defend it.
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