Chichester is a city at the foot of the South Downs and is surrounded by beautiful countryside, sandy beaches, fishing villages, historical and family attractions.
It was the Romans who founded the city of Chichester back in 43 AD when they landed. The Romans set up a fort on the River Lavant, which was the ideal location for receiving supplies from France. “Noviomagus” was the name that they gave to the settlement. The streets were laid out in a grid with roads going North, East, West, and South. The basic road layout is still in place to this day. The forum was at the centre of the town, which was a marketplace for trading local goods. Shops and public buildings were also located in this area.
The amphitheatre was constructed beside Chichester around 80 AD and I has about 800 seats arranged in tiers. The amphitheatre would have been used for bear baiting and cock fighting. Bear baiting is where a bear was chained up then attacked by trained dogs. It also played host to some gladiator fights where they would fight to the death for the purpose of entertaining the crowds.
Towards the close of the 2nd Century, ramparts and a ditch were introduced for the purpose of fortifying the town. Stone walls were constructed in the 3rd Century, which were further reinforced in the 4th Century with bastions or semi-circular towers.
Romans had their pastimes and of the most common ones was going to the public baths. Chichester had public baths that stood what is now known as Chapel Street. During the Roman times the baths served as a place not only for getting clean but also for mingling and socialising. At the junction of Lion Street and North Street was a temple to the Roman Gods Minerva and Neptune. Potters, blacksmiths, carpenters, and other traders would also have been working in the town.
Chichester was already a declining town by the end of the 4th Century and the last one of the Roman soldiers finally left in 407 AD. Nothing much is known about exactly what transpired for the next two centuries but by the start of the 6th Century, Saxons had arrived and it was at this juncture where the name Chichester traces its origins.
The Saxons used to refer to any groups of old Roman buildings as ceaster. The Saxons subsequently named the town after a Saxon by the name Cissa, and it thereafter became known as “Cissa’s Ceaster”, which was later shortened to Cisscester, and finally became “Chichester”. The history of Chichester is documented sparsely over the next several hundred years.
In the late 9th Century, Chichester was made a burgh (fortified town) by Alfred the Great, who had started fortifying towns across the kingdom. The burghs made it easier/possible for men to gather and defend against attacks from the Danes.
In the year 894, the Danes arrived at West Sussex but men from Chichester along with the surrounding areas went to confront them and managed to kill several hundred Danes and even took some captive. The success proved the importance of Burghs like Chichester for the security of the kingdom.
Chichester as a burgh was not only an important fortification during this period but had transformed into a flourishing market town. A mint was introduced in Chichester in the 10th Century, which is testament to the importance of the town in the region.
A motte and bailey castle was built in Chichester by the Normans after they invaded England, although it was later occupied by a French Prince who at the time was in line for the crown of England. The ascension of the Prince to the throne never came to be and he went back to France. The castle was thereafter demolished.
The end of the 10th Century was when the next major development in the town happened with the construction of the Cathedral. In 1108, the Cathedral was consecrated, but soon after it was destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt. Another fire destroyed the Cathedral in 1187 and it was rebuilt again. A spire was introduced in the early 15th Century and the building still stands to this day virtually untouched since the addition.
Bishop Storey erected the Chichester Market Cross in 1501 and traders who brought goods to sell in the market were required to pay a toll. This historic landmark still stands to this day.
Chichester went into decline again towards the end of the middle ages in the 16th Century and it was no longer a very important town. The town enjoyed a variety of improvements thanks to the Georgians. Chichester had its first bank and its streets were paved. In the year 1791, Chichester had its first theatre. Chichester started growing in the 19th Century due to the rapid population growth in Britain during this period. At the start of the Napoleonic wars, a barracks was built in the town.
Modernisation has occurred through its prevailing history since then. However, Chichester has stayed relatively undeveloped on the whole and much of the medieval heritage remains to this day, which makes Chichester a site of historical interest and a popular tourist destination.
Today, the City of Chichester still remains as the prosperous administrative capital of West Sussex. Its broad streets are lined with listed buildings with the towering presence of the Cathedral heading this list. The city centre is enclosed neatly within the ancient city walls, which makes it great to explore on foot and a great place to do some shopping, but it is hard to avoid its links to illustrious past.
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