An ancient Roman statue will once again greet visitors to Housesteads more than a century after it was removed.
The winged statue of Victory is considered to be one of the best examples of its kind in Britain today.
Originally thought to have been carved for one of the official buildings at Housesteads, conveying the military might of the Roman Empire to all who saw it, it was taken from the fort in Northumberland sometime in the 19th century.
But from April this year it will form the centrepiece of a new exhibition opening at the fort – welcoming sightseers and other callers as it did thousands of years ago.
The exhibition at Housesteads will explore the lives of the soldiers and civilians who lived and fought at this ancient and remote hilltop fortress – the most complete Roman fort in Britain.
English Heritage closed the museum at the iconic fort for six months to breathe new life in to Housesteads, adding fresh objects to the outstanding collection of Roman carvings and artefacts already on display.
It will serve as an introduction to the ruined fort, one of the most important locations on Hadrian’s Wall, which is a World Heritage Site.
Visitors will be able to wander through the remains of the barracks and with the help of new interpretation, imagine what life would have been like 2,000 years ago in this fortress on the edge of the Roman Empire.
Baroness Andrews, Chair of English Heritage, said: “Housesteads is one of the most dramatic places on the Wall and the most complete Roman fort anywhere on this island. Our new exhibition will help people discover what life on the Roman frontier was like.”
Known to the Romans as “Vercovicium” or “the place of effective fighters”, Housesteads was added to the Wall in the mid-120s AD.
The exhibition features an audio-visual presentation and hands on exhibits alongside the stunning object displays and will explore all aspects of life in the busy fort, showing the perhaps surprising sophistication of the people who lived there from the tools used to maintain the buildings to the medical equipment employed to keep troops healthy in the hospital.
Small, personal effects such as devotional altars and shoes, will sit beside the intricate objects of the Commanding Officer’s house, like high status decorative clay drinking cups imported from France and finely carved fluted jet beads.
Housesteads was not just a highly efficient military base, it was home to civilians who lived just outside the fort in a tough civilian encampment known as the vicus, a common pattern across the Roman Empire.
Their lives next to the huge military presence of the Romans will also be examined. Coin moulds used in counterfeiting within the settlement are on display, hinting at the marginal activities of some of the people who lived there.
English Heritage, the National Trust and Northumberland National Park Authority are working in partnership on this project and the development of the new exhibition space is part of a wider plan for improvements to the visitor facilities at Housesteads.
The National Trust will improve the welcome for tourists, re-modelling the visitor centre, toilets, shop and café with work due to take place towards the end of 2012.
Northumberland National Park Authority is working to improve the visitor infrastructure to provide additional car parking spaces and access and a more convenient stop for the Hadrian’s Wall Bus.
The improvements at Housesteads are also part of an investment from English Heritage along Hadrian’s Wall. In Cumbria, Carlisle Castle will benefit from a brand new exhibition exploring the story of the castle’s famous and infamous inhabitants.
It will cast new light on how the castle’s proud keep has changed over the centuries and explores its role as a border fortress within the most besieged city in England.
In addition to this development, the Captain’s Tower, which is one of the best preserved gatehouses in the UK, will be re-opening to all castle visitors for the first time in 20 years.
Housesteads will re-open to the public in April. The fort will be open daily from 10am-6pm and admission prices are: adults, £6, concessions £5.40 and children £3.60. Under-fives and English Heritage and National Trust members go free.
For more information visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/housesteads