Surrey has a rich history going back centuries. The Romans left a significant mark on the archaeological record of Surrey. This can be seen through both the physical and historical record detailing the establishment of towns, such as Pontibus (Staines-upon-Thames), the construction of roads and industry as well as religious sites for example.
For this edition of our blog we have a look at one of the mysteries and oddities of Surrey. A 19th Century folly constructed out of Roman ruins originating from modern day Libya.
Leptis Magna was founded in the 7th Century BC by the Phoenicians, later becoming part of the Roman Empire. Leptis Magna flourished between the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD through a scheme of enhancement and enlargement conducted by the Emperor Septimius Severus, who was a native of the city. So how did a part of this city and later World Heritage Site, come to be within the Royal Park at Virginia Water?
Known today as the Temple of Augustus, it is an artificial ruin constructed from Roman ruins transported from the city of Leptis Magna in modern day Libya. This was a gift granted in 1816 from the Local Governor following being persuaded to present a gift by Colonel Hanmer Warrington, Consul General in Tripoli, to the Prince Regent, later King George IV.
The gift consisted of 22 granite columns, 15 marble columns, 10 capitals, 25 pedestals, 7 loose slabs, 10 pieces of cornice, 5 inscribed slabs, various fragments of figure sculpture and grey limestone. These were originally intended to be part of the Portico at the British Museum, but were moved to Windsor Great Park by gun carriages in twelve loads between August and October 1826.
Between 1827 and 1830 Sir Jeffry Wyatville would use the material to construct the large artificial ruin with a carriage road dividing it and raised over the Ascot road. The construction allowed King George IV to pass under it through an archway from the great park to the ground of Fort Belvedere. The ruins on the south side are arranged in a semi-circle consisting of 15 of the Roman Columns to suggest a temple of Augustus. On the north side ruins are arranged in 2 parallel colonnades. Approximately 10 feet outside the colonnade, a tooled ashlar wall was constructed with a semi-circular niche to create an outer wall to the artificial temple.
Following its construction the ruins have undergone some changes and alterations since the 19th century. This included a portico grouping of three column in the southeast part of the ruins being taken down in 1897 at the command of Queen Victoria due to concerns regarding stability of the structure. The ruin’s condition would continue to deteriorate over the course of the 20th century until 2008, when the Crown Estate Commissioners agreed and initiated a repair programme with the objective to restore the ruins to as close to Wyatville’s original design as possible. This included the re-erection of a number of columns including the three column portico and formed part of a wider Royal Landscape conservation project.
The ruins were reopened to the public in May 2009, and today you can visit this folly and see a part of Roman Libya in Surrey.
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