10 of the Best Roman Buildings and Sites Still Standing in Europe

Harry Atkins

3 mins

25 Jun 2018

The Roman Empire left behind a remarkable cultural, technological and social legacy that went a long way towards forging western civilisation as we know it today. By the early 2nd century, the frontiers of the empire stretched from the borderlands of northern Britannia to the deserts of Arabia and many stunning remains can be found dotted across Europe.

1. The Colosseum, Italy

We could have filled this list with sites in Rome – all roads really do lead to the Italian capital if you’re hoping to immerse yourself in Roman history. However, in the interests of geographical diversity, we’ve limited ourselves to just one Rome-based entry.

Inevitably, that one site had to be the Colosseum, the single most iconic Roman structure on the face of the earth and a lasting evocation of Roman culture at its most strident and theatrical. The scale of this vast arena still inspires awe and it’s hard not to imagine you’re hearing the roar of 50,000 bloodthirsty spectators as you approach.

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2. Imperial Baths of Trier, Germany

Said to have been the largest Roman bath complex outside Rome, the Imperial Baths of Trier, built in the 4th century, show just how important bathing was to the Romans. The vast Kaiserthermen was over 100 metres wide and 200 metres long and capable of hosting thousands of bathers. The remains include an extensive subterranean network of service passages.

3. Pont du Gard, France

This ancient structure crosses the Gardon River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. Credit: Emanuele / Commons

The most visited Roman site in France and arguably the greatest remaining example of Roman technical ingenuity, the Pont du Gard is a huge aqueduct that dates back to about 19 AD. Composed of three tiers of arches, this extraordinary structure was built to transport water from Uzès to Nîmes.

As a demonstration of the Romans’ ability to match precise engineering with bold architectural largesse it is probably unmatched.

4. Arènes d’Arles, France

The Provencal town of Arles is home to some of France’s most impressive Roman ruins, most notably this amphitheatre which dates back to the 1st century AD. Known as the “Little Rome of Gaul”, Arles was a large, strategically important city in the Roman era.

5. Capua Amphitheatre, Italy

The ruins of the Capua Amphitheatre are second only to Rome’s Colosseum in terms of their size, and, as the venue that Spartacus fought in, Capua doesn’t come up short if you’re on the lookout for storied Roman ruins. Despite this, the stunning gladiatorial arena remains a relatively underappreciated Roman site.

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6. Roman Theatre of Orange, France

It’s hard to imagine a better preserved Roman amphitheatre than this wonderfully atmospheric Provencal site. The ancient theatre of Orange still hosts concerts and operas 2,000 years after it was built (under the rule of Augustus), granting visitors a very special sense of the place as a living performance space. 

7. Pula Arena, Croatia

The Roman Empire ruled what’s now known as Croatia for five centuries, so it should come as no surprise that some of Europe’s most impressive Roman ruins can be found in the country. Pula’s remarkably well-preserved amphitheatre is undoubtedly the highlight.

8. Herculaneum, Italy

Located just a few miles from Pompeii, the ruins of Herculaneum are less famous than those of its neighbour, but this well-preserved Roman settlement suffered the same fate when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Herculaneum’s ruins may be far less popular with tourists but, if anything, they’re better preserved.

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9. Butrint Theatre, Albania

Albania’s most impressive ancient ruins are located around 20km from the city of Saranda, in the south of the country. The site offers a tranquil, under-developed archaeological journey through Mediterranean history and a fascinating example of the Greek and Roman civilizations overlapping.

Butrint shows how the Romans adapted the Greek architectural legacy they inherited; a transition exemplified by the theatre which was originally built by the Greeks and then expanded by the Romans.

10. Library of Celsus, Turkey

The library is located in the ancient city of Ephesus. Credit: Benh LIEU SONG / Commons

Built between 114 and 117 AD, the Library of Celsus is the finest remaining testament to the architectural magnificence of the city of Ephesus, located in modern day Turkey.

Built by the ancient Greeks (and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World), Ephesus became a major Roman city in 129 BC. Designed by the Roman architect, Vitruoya, the Library of Celsus stands as a well-preserved testament to the era’s architectural sophistication.