First excavated in the 1800s in West Sussex, Bignor Roman Villa preserves some of the most complete and colorful Roman mosaics in the United Kingdom.
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The site of the Bignor Villa is believed to have been occupied as a farm from approximately 190 AD. There was certainly a farmstead with Roman links on the site sometime near the end of the 1st Century AD. The first iteration of the villa, a stone structure with four rooms, was constructed later in approximately 240 AD.
More rooms, an entrance porch, and a hypocaust heating system had been added by 290 AD. The villa was located close to Stane Street – the main Roman route between Noviomagus Reginorum (modern-day Chichester) and Londinium.
This initial building formed the western section of a larger villa, which was expanded near the start of the 4th Century. North and south wings were constructed, with the villa eventually growing to encompass about 65 individual rooms. Several separate farm buildings were also built around the villa. The majority of the stunning mosaics discovered on the site are situated in the north wing.
Almost no records of the villa's owners have ever been found. It's likely that it belonged to either a wealthy Roman family who emigrated from somewhere else in the Empire or local Romano-British aristocrats. One of the paintings in the entrance hall depicts a wealthy-looking man wearing some jewelry found during various excavations.
The villa was first discovered in 1811 when a local farmer, George Tupper, struck one of the foundational stones while plowing the field. The subsequent excavations were led by local geologist John Hawkins and Samuel Lysons, a leading British antiquarian.
Bignor Villa was first opened for public viewing in 1814. Most of the structures had been uncovered by 1815, but the death of Lysons in 1819 halted further efforts. Excavations restarted in 1925 and have continued sporadically until the present day. The site is still owned by descendants of George Tupper.
Bignor Villa is remarkably well preserved, and most of the villa's wings still survive today. Protective buildings have been constructed over the rooms, allowing visitors to explore the villa without exposing it to the elements.
The north wing houses most of the surviving mosaics, including ones depicting the goddess Venus and a series of gladiators. These mosaics are preserved in the Summer and Winter dining rooms. A bath house can be found in the south wing. Other mosaics and statues are housed in the west wing.
There's also a museum displaying some of the finds from the various excavations throughout the villa's history. The site includes amenities such as a tearoom and gift shop.
Visiting information and tips
Admission costs £7.50 for adults and £5 for children. It's free for children under five. There's also a reduced ticket price of £6 for senior visitors. Family tickets are available.
By car, Bignor Roman Villa is one hour away from Brighton and half an hour from Chichester.