Chester is arguably the richest
city in Britain for archaeological and architectural
treasures preserved to this day from the time of the
Roman occupation. Originally the fortress site of the
20th legion (Valeria Victrix) it was charged with
suppressed the uprising of the army led by the warrior
queen, Boadicea, the town being known then (c. AD70) as
Deva, and soon became a major trading port.
Its massive harbour and border position made it one of
the finest strategic outposts of the Roman Empire. Long
after the Romans had gone, during the Dark Ages, Viking
raiders arrived in their long boats along the same route.
After the Romans withdrew circa AD400, the prosperous city
fell prey to marauding Danes and Saxons and was virtually
derelict by 900.
The Normans reached Chester circa 1070 and a revival
began, Chester Castle was built, housing Hugh the Wolf,
First Earl of Chester, nephew of William the Conqueror.
By the Middle Ages, Chester had become an affluent and
prosperous port. It was during this time that the famous
Rows were built. so that by the 13th century, it had
again become a centre of shipping trade, a port serving
Scotland, Ireland, France and Spain. In the 14th century
began the Mystery Plays and pageants for which the city
became famous. Henry VIII granted a charter in 1541 and
made Chester a bishopric.
By the 15th century, the Dee began to silt up and
gradually, the seaborne trade died. Impoverished by this
natural action the 1640s brought devastation during the
English Civil War, with the city under siege for two
years until starvation forced surrender.
But throughout this chequered history, the Roman walls
remained virtually intact. The walls extend in a 2 mile
circuit and give a vivid reminder of what a medieval
fortified town was like. In the Middle Ages, several
towers and gates to the walls were made: the most
important of these was at Eastgate, now astride a main
throughfare and crowned with an anachronistic clock
commemorating Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee (1897).
By the 1700s, the River Dee had changed course and the
port had silted up. The walls were no longer needed for
defence and were restyled into the pleasant walkways that
we enjoy today. The Industrial Revolution brought canals,
railways and roads. It was during this time that many
important buildings were restored.
The most distinctive medieval feature of the city is The
Rows. These are double-level walkways with a continuous
line of balconies and with shops at street and
first-floor levels. The Rows are unique and were
certainly in existence in the 14th century.