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Seldom seen mosaic on display at the Alban Arena

A 1,800-year-old Roman mosaic is to go on public view for only the second time since it was discovered 80 years ago.

Alban Arena Roman MosaicArchaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler found the mosaic during a dig in the 1930s on the site of the ancient Roman city of Verulamium, now St Albans.

Measuring 3.6 square metres, it is made up of hundreds of tiny white, brown and red tiles in an intricate design featuring many different shapes and symbols.

The priceless work, once the floor of a wealthy Roman’s villa, was covered back up and left underground at Verulamium Park until the late 1960s.

It was then lifted out at the request of St Albans City and District Council to mark the 1968 opening of the newly-built City Hall theatre.

The mosaic became a centrepiece of the venue – since renamed the Alban Arena –when it was laid down in the foyer and put on display for three months.

Afterwards, it was covered over by a protective carpet and has remained there for the past 48 years. Few theatre-goers have been aware they were walking on history.

The mosaic has only rarely been seen since when uncovered for maintenance work or impromptu viewings for interested residents.

Now the mosaic, which dates back to the second or third century AD, will go on display again during refurbishment work at the Arena.

The exhibition will take place from Monday 1 to Friday 12 August from 10am to 4pm, apart from Sunday 7 August when it will be closed.

Simon West, the District Archaeologist, will give talks on Wednesday 3 and Friday 5 August, 2pm to 4pm. David Thorold, Curator of Collections at Verulamium Museum, will do so on Wednesday 10 and Friday 12 August, 2pm to 4pm.

Other staff will be on hand during the rest of the opening times to answer questions and explain the mosaic’s history and importance.

Information boards are being prepared to tell the mosaic’s story and relate the history of Verulamium.

Councillor Annie Brewster, the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Sport, Leisure and Heritage, said: “This is a rare and fantastic chance to view a mosaic that is part of St Albans’ history.

“Each of the mosaics that have been uncovered at Verulamium Park has its own special colours, symbols and patterns. This one is very intricate and striking – it is hard to take your eyes off it.

“It also has a fascinating history having lain under the ground undiscovered for almost 2,000 years after the Romans abandoned Britain. I am sure hundreds of people will want to take advantage of this opportunity to see it close up.

“In the longer term, we have to move this mosaic for a permanent display rather than have it hidden from view and will be looking to raise funds to do that.”