AUGUSTA RAURICA, SWITZERLAND, July 8, 2017 — When most people think of Switzerland they usually conjure images of glorious alpine splendor. By the same token, that last thing travelers consider about Switzerland might be the Roman Empire.
So it is surprising to many to learn that Augusta Raurica, about 15 miles east of Basel, is the oldest known Roman colony on the Rhine River.
Founded by Lucius Munatius Plancus around 44 BC, Augusta Raurica is an archaeological oxymoron for a city that thrived along the banks of the Rhine nearly 2,000 years ago. There are two schools of thought regarding the settlement since there has been no recorded evidence uncovered as yet from the period.
Some scholars believe the colony was disrupted by a civil war that occurred after the death of Julius Caesar.
Others place the site of the Plancus village closer to modern-day Basel than to Augst.
Either way, there are ruins that confirm the existence of a civilized Roman society which played a significant role in plans by Augustus to conquer two other colonies bearing his name; Augusta Praetoria, now Aosta situated at the southern end of the San Bernardino Pass, and Augusta Vindelicum or Augsburg, as we know it today, which was an outpost on the Danube.
The three Augusta from a geographical triangle spanning the Alps with three major conquests by Augustus.
Recent excavations have determined that the city was well defended to the east, west, and north thanks to a high plateau just south of the Rhine.
During the 2nd century AD, Augusta Raurica prospered thanks to it proximity to the river and its importance as a commercial trading center as well as being the capital of a local Roman province.
With an estimated population of 20,000 inhabitants, the settlement exported smoked pork and bacon to other parts of the empire.
As with most Roman cities, Augusta Raurica had most of the important amenities including an amphitheater, a main forum, several smaller forums temples and public baths as well as the largest Roman theater north of the Alps.
By 1442, some fifty years before Columbus discovered America, Switzerland had already been a democracy for more than 150 years. The communities of Augst and Kaiseraugst were split along the Egolz and Vioenbach Rivers. The western land was given to Basel which officially became a canton (state) in 1501. The eastern portion became part of the Hapsburg territories until it was annexed by Switzerland in 1803 following the Napoleonic wars.
Driving east along the road which parallels the Rhine from Basel, it seems odd to discover an ancient Roman outpost sitting seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Take time to stop. The ruins are fascinating and the Roman Museum houses artifacts for the Roman city that highlight with the surprising history of the site.
Among the treasures is the most important archaeological discovery since excavations began: the silver treasure of Kaiseraugst was discovered in the fortress between 1961 and 1962. It is believed to have once been the property of a Roman commander.
The museum also features a reconstruction of a Roman house, with various exhibits depicting domestic and commercial life during that time.
As with any unusual site, the outdoor museum and ruins of Augusta Raurica are a pleasant diversion for a few hours of discovery. These are the stuff of real travel; “travel for travel’s sake.” For these are the “in-between” places that beckon to be explored.
As an anonymous writer once said, “Every place is undiscovered until you discover it yourself.”
Augusta Raurica lies within the realm of “bucket list” territory.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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