For a time, the Gallo Roman Museum was the main reason to visit Tongeren. But recently, archaeologists have dug down under the floor of the Gothic church to reveal astonishing Roman remains, including the foundations of a bath house and traces of two Roman homes.
The excavations have turned up a total of 45,000 pottery shards, 75,000 fragments of wall paintings and 67 boxes of animal bones. The finds are displayed in a new underground museum known as Teseum.
Expertly designed by a team of historians, designers, musicians and IT engineers, the museum offers a headphone-guided route through the dark underground spaces.
The commentary (in four languages) draws attention to odd details, like a well where a Roman citizen once tossed a gold coin, a Roman stone carved by a local woman to protect her loved ones, and fragments of wall paintings in the style of Pompeii. The ominous background music adds another layer of mystery to the experience.
The tour ends dramatically inside the foundations of a vanished Roman villa where you see the charred remains of a wooden beam set on fire during the destruction of Tongeren in 275 AD. With the background sound of the burning city in your headphones, the cracked brick walls and blackened wood bring you close to the moment the Roman Empire died.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.