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In Roman Britannia

Numerous Roman villas have been meticulously examined in England.[1] Like their Italian counterparts, they were complete working agrarian societies of fields and vineyards, perhaps even tileworks or quarries, ranged round a high-status power centre with its baths and gardens. The grand villa at Woodchester preserved its mosaic floors when the Anglo-Saxon parish church was built (not by chance) upon its site. Burials in the churchyard as late as the 18th century had to be punched through the intact mosaic floors. The even more palatial villa rustica at Fishbourne near Winchester was built uncharacteristically as a large open rectangle with porticos enclosing gardens that was entered through a portico. Towards the end of the 3rd century, Roman towns in Britain ceased to expand: like patricians near the centre of the empire, Roman Britons withdrew from the cities to their villas, which entered on a palatial building phase, a "golden age" of villa life. Villae rusticae are essential in the Empire's economy. Two kinds of villa plan in Roman Britain may be characteristic of Roman villas in general. The more usual plan extended wings of rooms all opening onto a linking portico, which might be extended at right angles, even to enclose a courtyard. The other kind featured an aisled central hall like a basilica, suggesting the villa owner's magisterial role. The villa buildings were often independent structures linked by their enclosed courtyards. Timber-framed construction, carefully fitted with mortises and tenons and dowelled together, set on stone footings, were the rule, replaced by stone buildings for the important ceremonial rooms. Traces of window glass have been found as well as ironwork window grilles. Fishbourne Roman Palace is in the village of Fishbourne in West Sussex. The large palace was built in the 1st century AD, around thirty years after the Roman conquest of B itain on the site of a Roman army supply base established at the Claudian invasion in 43 AD. The rectangular palace surrounded formal gardens, the northern half of which have been reconstructed. There were extensive alterations in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, with many of the original black and white mosaics being overlaid with more sophisticated coloured work, including the perfectly preserved dolphin mosaic in the north wing. More alterations were in progress when the palace burnt down in around 270, after which it was abandoned. Although local people had known of the existence of Roman remains in the area, it was not until 1960 that the archaeologist Barry Cunliffe first systematically excavated the site, which had been accidentally uncovered by workmen when a water main was being laid. The Roman villa excavated by Cunliffe's team was so large that it became known as Fishbourne Roman Palace, and a museum was erected to protect and preserve some of the remains in situ. This is administered by the Sussex Archaeological Society. In size, it is approximately equivalent to Nero's Golden House in Rome or to the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina in Sicily, and in plan it closely mirrors the basic organisation of the emperor Domitian's palace, the Domus Flavia, completed in AD 92 upon the Palatine Hill in Rome.[1] Fishbourne is by far the largest Roman residence known north of the Alps. At about 500 feet (150 m) square, it is larger in size than Buckingham Palace.[2] A modern museum has been built by the Sussex Archaeological Society, incorporating most of the visible remains including one wing of the palace. The gardens have been re-planted using authentic plants from the Roman period. A team of volunteers and professional archaeologists are involved in a continuing research archaeological excavation on the site of nearby, possibly military, buildings. The last dig was in 2002.

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