London Drum

London Mithraeum – Roman Temple of Mithras

London Mithraeum
Where? London Mithraeum, 12 Walbrook, The City · Web: Opening times? 10 AM to 6 PM (Tue-Sat); 10 AM to 8 PM (first Thu of every month); 12 noon to 5 PM (Sun) Visiting hours may change Price? Free Time required? A typical visit is 30-45 mins Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 8, 11, 21, 23, 25, 26, 43, 47, 48, 76, 133, 141, 149, 242 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Cannon Street Circle District Other nearby stations: Bank, Mansion House, Monument and St. Paul’s Train fares

Craig’s review… Have you ever returned to your old hometown just to see if anything has changed? See if your family house is still standing… maybe sit at a bus stop for five minutes and try and see your teachers? Imagine if an old Roman tried to do that in London. Apart from chunks of the old city wall and the crumbling stumps of a military fort there’s hardly anything left above ground for him to remember. He might recognise the remains of a bathhouse underneath an office block in Lower Thames Street, but the amphitheatre where he spent his Saturday afternoons is underneath an art gallery now, and his local temple is buried beneath this big building by Bank.

The Romans built the Temple of Mithras 1,800 years ago. Four centuries later they abandoned it to the weeds and reeds that eroded the stones until some builders rediscovered its lower levels in 1954. Unfortunately the new site owners decided that they didn’t like the idea of having an ancient temple in their underground car park so they lifted it into Queen Victoria Street and the Museum of London plundered the busts for themselves.

Roll on another fifty years and the unloved office block was itself torn down, and the incoming Bloomberg company decided to restore the temple to its original position. So what you’re looking at now is the original temple, in its original location (give or take a few feet) but reconstructed from the 1954 plans.

The Bloomberg building

I used to loathe the new Bloomberg building when it was built but I’m starting to warm to it now. I think it was just the colossal size of it that wound me up – it’s too huge. It’s just a solid block of copper-coloured walls and you can spend fifteen minutes walking around the outside trying to find the right door. The one you need is called ‘Bloomberg Space’ and you have to pre-book a time slot on their website (you can’t just turn up on the day).

Roman artefacts from Walbrook

Once they’ve scanned your digital ticket and given you a flashy iPad you have to spend a few minutes admiring their modern art (at the time of writing they’ve got a wire spider and a piece of rainbow-coloured carpet). Much better is a corner cabinet containing all of the items that they dug up in the 1950s… ancient plates and mosaics, pots and locks, bits of glass, clasps and coins.

The Temple of Mithras

Things begin to get a lot more interesting when you descend a set of stairs into a dark room full of misty, wispy projections. Joanna Lumley then starts reading some history out of the speakers and you sit there listening to her until it’s time to descend the next set of steps to the temple. They only admit about twenty people at a time because it’s a very small space and it’s extremely dark. In fact, it’s even darker than that – you can hardly see a thing. You can’t see the walls, the floor, your legs, nothing. Then ever so slowly a moon-coloured light illuminates the gloom and you can start to pick out a few lines. A silvery picture shimmers at the altar end and spotlights start hitting invisible bricks in midair to throw vertical shadows in the shape of columns. The temple then rises up to its full height using sheets of white light – it’s almost like looking at a hologram.

It’s quite well done and they’ve squeezed as much interest out of it as they can, given the tiny size of the remains. When the main lights finally switch on at the end you can see that it’s basically just a rectangle of short stubby walls with some steps at the altar end.

Then you take a few pictures and go home. The whole thing only took me thirty minutes.

Worth a visit? Value for money? freeGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Billingsgate Roman House and Baths (you can walk it in 7 mins). If you’re interested in Roman London then check out the remains of the London’s amphitheatre in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery. There are lots more Roman exhibits at the Museum of London. If you fancy some exercise then try our self-guided walk around Roman London

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

Peter We'd never heard of this place at all and just stumbled across it by chance when walking around, and agreed it was the most memorable thing we saw all day. It is amazing to think what is under London's streets, hiding away where nobody can see it. There is so much history just waiting to be discovered, if you take the time to look

patricia How dark is it really? I am not comfortable in the dark. Why would they make it so dark?

Craig Hi Patricia. The room with the temple inside does start out very dark indeed - the kind of dark where it's hard to see people standing in front of you. But it doesn't last very long. And it's very atmospheric when the lights slowly come on and illuminate the ruins. You can just stand there and not move a muscle if you want to, there's no need to walk around when the lights are low.

Manny Yes it is very atmospheric and worth visiting, I loved it. It made my spine tingle when the temple revealed itself from out of the darkness

Ira Thank you for introducing us to this magical museum. I would give it five stars. I recommend that everyone visit the Museum of London as well if they are interested in the Roman archaeology of London

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