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Beneath central London lies some unique history dating back over two thousand years. Back then, Romans controlled the area, known as Londinium. They constructed a variety of buildings such as houses & baths, temples, and even an amphitheater. Over the years, much of this architecture has been lost to time. However, there are still a few places in London where you can see Roman ruins. One of the most unique is the London Mithraeum, also known as the Temple of Mithras.
It’s easy to walk around the modern buildings of central London & pass right by the London Mithraeum. Thousands of people do it every day as they enter & exit Bank Station. But right inside the new Bloomberg building lies the foundations of an important part of Londinium Roman life, along with items that were excavated in the area.
The Temple of Mithras was a Mithraic temple dedicated to the god Mithras. Mithraists were rivals to early Christianity. The mystery cult eventually ended up being eliminated from the Roman Empire, though the London Mithraeum is one of many around the former Roman Empire that can still be visited today.
Access to the London Mithraeum is free, but it’s suggested that you book ahead of time as entries are timed. The museum is open every day except for Mondays. You can book tickets on the official website here. The website also has an app called “Bloomberg Connects” that provides deeper background on the museum & the exhibits within. It’s a nice way of integrating modern technology with this historic site. Some places would have shunted off this valuable ground-floor London real estate to do a bare minimum to preserve the ruins, but Bloomberg has really leaned into it being an attraction.
The first part of the ground floor of the London Mithraeum includes a contemporary art space, which has a rotating exhibition of works inspired by the site. There is also a large, well-lit wall illuminating some of the 14,000 Roman artifacts that were found during the excavation of the Temple of Mithras & the surrounding area, including coins, jewelry, leather shoes, and writing tablets. It’s remarkable how well-preserved many of these items are.Book your hotel in London now!
The next floor down contains an introduction to the site. There are details about its history and background, along with a recording. This area serves as a waiting room for the actual viewing of the Temple of Mithras.
Though the museum doesn’t delve into the details, the Temple of Mithras has actually been moved around a couple of times. This excellent article outlines much more of the process. The temple, which is estimated to have been built around the 3rd century, was first discovered in 1954 during the construction of the Bucklersbury House. Marble likenesses of Mithras and other deities were found on-site back in the 1950s, thus confirming the purpose of the temple. In order to preserve the ruins, the main foundation was moved about 100 meters to Temple Court. There it was available for outdoor public viewing. However, when it came time to demolish the Bucklersbury House & construct new buildings, there was an opportunity to restore the site. Bloomberg incorporated the London Mithraeum into the plans for its new European headquarters, bringing the temple back home (or as close as possible – some remaining ruins on the site were too fragile to be touched). The ruins you see today are a reconstruction of how they were found during the original 1954 dig, with a modern twist.
Every 20 minutes or so, small groups are led into the dark room housing the temple. It’s an immersive experience that first starts out in the darkness, then spotlights & a bit of fog illuminate the interior & exterior of the temple. It’s a fascinating way of bringing these ruins to life. Often times with sites like these, you have to just imagine what the complete structure would have looked like thousands of years ago. It’s a novel way of presenting history.
This show lasts for five minutes or so. You are then free to walk around the perimeter of the London Mithraeum ruins for the rest of your time.
The London Mithraeum provides an interesting view of Roman London. A visit can be combined with other historic spots for an interesting afternoon of Roman architecture in London. Nearby, you can also visit the Roman amphitheater at Guildhall and the Billingsgate Roman House & Baths.
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