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The Historic Splendour of Exeter

submitted on 16 August 2023 by

A City Steeped in Time

Exeter, a city in Devon where history pops out at you from every corner, like a jack-in-the-box on a caffeine overdose. The Romans, medieval monarchs, and Civil War combatants have all trodden these well-worn streets, leaving their indelible mark on a city that seems to have more historical sites than pubs. And that’s saying something because Exeter loves its pubs. But fear not, dear visitor, for as you meander through this city of splendour, you'll find many a tavern in which to rest your weary legs and quench your thirst. But I digress, let's talk history.

Roman Exeter: Built to last, mostly

When the Romans arrived in Britain, they chose Exeter as the perfect spot for a city and established 'Isca Dumnoniorum', which is Latin for "why on Earth did we build a city on a hill?" The remains of this ancient settlement are now scattered throughout Exeter, like a jigsaw puzzle that only the most determined of historians can piece together. However, if you venture to Rougemont Gardens, you can still see the original Roman walls sitting atop the hill, proudly defying the ravages of time and the local pigeon population. At Northernhay Gardens, you'll find a chunk of Roman bathhouse and a stretch of the original city wall that'll leave you thinking, "Well, that's a nice bit of wall."

Exeter Cathedral: A Tale of Two Towers

Now let's turn our attention to Exeter Cathedral, a breathtaking example of medieval architecture that has more flying buttresses than you can shake a gargoyle at. The cathedral was built in the 13th and 14th centuries, making it younger than some of the cheese in my fridge. The most remarkable thing about the cathedral, however, is the fact that its two towers were constructed by completely different builders with utterly contrasting styles. One tower is squat and sturdy, built by a man named Walter Branscombe, who was clearly a chap who believed in getting the job done quickly and efficiently. The other tower, built by John Grandisson, is slender and elegant, the work of someone who perhaps spent a little too much time contemplating the finer points of Gothic architecture. The result is a unique and slightly schizophrenic cathedral that is exceedingly pleasing to the eye.

The Underground Passages: A Cool, Dark Delight

Now, if you're feeling a bit warm and bothered after all that history and architecture, I have just the thing for you: Exeter's mysterious Underground Passages. Built in the 14th century to bring fresh water into the city, these subterranean tunnels are a marvel of medieval engineering that will leave you wondering how on Earth they managed it without hard hats and hi-vis vests. Take a guided tour and marvel at how well-preserved the passages are, and be grateful that you're not a claustrophobic medieval plumber.

Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum: A Treasure Trove of Wonderment

If your appetite for history remains unsated, then fear not, for I have saved the pièce de résistance for last. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum is a veritable treasure trove of artefacts, art, and curiosities that will have you gawping like a child in a sweet shop. Marvel at the Exeter Puzzle Jug, a medieval drinking vessel with more holes than a Swiss cheese, and ponder what the ancient Romans would make of the museum's collection of 2,000-year-old coins. There is also a stuffed elephant, for reasons that remain unclear.

And So, We Bid Farewell to Exeter

As we conclude our whistle-stop tour of Exeter's historical splendour, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the centuries of history that have unfolded within these city walls. From Roman soldiers to medieval bishops, from Civil War sieges to stuffed elephants, Exeter has seen it all. So next time you find yourself in this delightful corner of Devon, take a moment to pause and appreciate the layers of history beneath your feet. And then go and have a pint in one of Exeter's many fine pubs, because history is thirsty work.
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