Capital of the Cotswolds.
I'd never been to Cirencester, 'capital of the Cotswolds', so thought I'd stay there overnight on my way to a few days in Somerset.
I'm glad I did. It's a lovely market town, with oodles of history and no air of superiority about itself (there are some places like that in England).
Cirencester is sited on the Fosse Way, a major Roman road running from the south coast up to Lincoln (a major Roman city, where the Empire was declared Christian by Emperor Constantine). So it is not surprising that it became the wealthy and prosperous Roman settlement of Corinium Dobunnorum, second only in importance to Lincoln.
There are no Roman remains visible in the town itself (they have all been built over) although many lie nearby, including several villas. But the Corinium museum (see travelogue) has artefacts on show, including several lovely mosaics (a real indication of the wealth of some citizen). And there is a massive amphitheatre just outside what would have been the Roman town walls......big enough to hold around 8000 people and one of the largest in England.
There was once a huge Norman abbey in Cirencester, but this too is mostly gone.
Founded in 1117 on the site of what is thought to be the oldest Saxon church in England (itself built on a Roman sacred site) the Augustinian abbey continued until Henry Vlll's reign, when monasteries and abbeys were 'suppressed' and often destroyed, their wealth taken by the king and their lands given to his favourites. In the case of Cirencester, Henry ordered the complete demolition of the abbey buildings. The surrounding parkland remains as a most beautiful place to walk, right in the town centre, with water and waterbirds, grassy acres and trees. The outline of the main abbey buildings has been laid out in stone and one of the ancient Norman gatehouses still stands.
The superb church of St John the Baptist on the market square has an almost cathedral-like quality......it is truly massive. It was started in 1115, as part of the abbey and (like almost all English churches) underwent many changes in subsequent centuries. Have a look at the church travelogue for more photos of the superb Medieval features inside: chapels and tombs, carvings and wall-paintings, even a silver-gilt goblet given by Queen Anne Boleyn...and make sure you visit if you are in Cirencester!
And what else? Well there are so many lovely and historical buildings in Cirencester, so much honey-coloured architecture to enjoy. Narrow Medieval streets in some places, 'yards' in others, the remains of two Medieval 'hospitals', the tallest yew hedge in Europe...and ample opportunity for shopping, eating and drinking (some very old pubs as well!).
All in all, Cirencester is a most excellent base for exploring the Cotswolds and more than deserves a visit in its own right. It's a lovely town with a great deal of history and a pleasing amount of green space right in its heart.