Advantages Well preserved mosaic sections; cheap admission; well kept gardens
Disadvantages Really needs a guided tour to get more out of a visit
|Is it worth visiting?|
Long before the Magyars decided to perplex non-Hungarians by naming this settlement in western Hungary "Szombathely" (pronounced Tsom-bat-aye) the Romans simply referred to it as Savaria. Excavations have revealed Roman remains in several locations in the area but the ones that can be seen in the Garden of Ruins, just in the shadow of the city’s cathedral, are the most extensive and best preserved. Szombathely lacks signs to guide tourists to the main attractions: the entrance to the gardens is through a gate to the right of the cathedral.Although tours in English may be possible if arranged in advance, we were given a somewhat tatty polythene folder containing a plan of the gardens and a rather long text about the site and its history. A volunteer who spoke German very quickly briefed me on the recommended route but he did this so quickly I had forgotten a minute later what he’d said. It didn’t help that neither of us could relate parts of the diagram with what we could see on the ground; fortunately we have the benefit of coming from an area rich in Roman remains and can, therefore, spot a Roman bathhouse from miles away.
The Roman remains here comprise the Imperial Palace, a customs post, public bathhouse and an amphitheatre as well as potters’ workshops; the remains of a mithraeum (a temple) were found most recently in 2008.. This outpost was established in about 50AD but the excavations have found remains from the first to fourth centuries. In Roman times it was known as Colonia Claudia Savariensum (Claudius' Colony of Savarians); the German name for Szombathely is ‘Steinamanager’ which translates as ‘stones on a field’ which, presumably refers to the Roman ruins that German settlers found when they arrived there. The evidence points to this being a prosperous settlement; it was close to the Amber Road, an important route for transporting goods across the Roman provinces, and the presence of a customs house and several kilns and potters’ workshops suggest that there was money here. Savaria was destroyed by an earthquake in 456 AD, a decade or so after the Huns had taken the city.One thing I really liked about this site is that you are able to get right among the remains, indeed you have to clamber over some sections to get around. Except for the sections of mosaic floor which are under cover, you can pretty much go wherever you want to. There are no boards beside the remains so you do have to persevere and read the information sheet and match up what that says with what you can see. The visible sections of the bath house and the amphitheatre were, fortunately, easy to identify and meant we could turn our attention to determining what the other sections were.
There are two simple roofed buildings that have been erected above the sections of mosaic in what would have been the imperial palace. The mosaic sections are nowhere near as striking or as large as those at, say, Fishbourne in England, but they are worth seeing nonetheless and regionally they are of note as they are the largest contiguous sections of Roman mosaic floor in Pannonia. The colours are not the best preserved I’ve ever seen but the motifs are easy to make out and rather pretty. In these two buildings there are some useful texts on boards on the walls which give you some interesting facts about the settlement at Savaria.The Savaria Museum stands in the same grounds but was not open when we visited; this was a bit disappointing because the museum contains some of the well preserved pots that were found on the site, along with an exhibition about pottery in the area during Roman times.
As well as the Roman remains, there are also some excavated parts of the medieval castle and town that stood here centuries later; these include parts of the outer defences of the castle.I think that you’d get a lot more out of this experience with the help of a guide so I would recommend making enquiries in advance if you’re able to. The garden is open Tuesday – Sunday from 15th March until 30th November, from 9.00am – 5.00pm. At the time of writing (July 2012) admission costs 600 HUF for adults and there are concessions for children, students, pensioners, etc. A day ticket can be bought which allows entry to Szombathely municipality run museums. There is an additional charge for guided tours.
There are Szombathely attractions that I would rate much higher than this one but, oddly, many of them don't open on weekends which is why we ended up at the Garden of Ruins. I'd recommend it if you have a particular interest in Roman history, but otherwise only with a guide.
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