Monday, June 8, 2009


On the road half-way between Vienna and Bratislava is an old looking arch. It is the remains of the Heidentor (heathen gate), erected between 354 and 361 AD as a triumphal monument for Emperor Constantius II. The gate is part of the Carnuntum, a significant Roman fortification founded in 6 AD by Tiberius.

And, as luck would have it, the day we had planned to tour the Austrian countryside and figure out what the heck that arch was happened to fall during The Big Carnuntum Roman Festival. So, we headed out on the B9 to Petronell-Carnuntum, following the well-marked signs on the highway. After parking in a field, we paid 9 euro to get in.

The size of the archaeological site is impressive and well worth visiting anytime. There are plans to excavate and restore portions of the site to its former glory through 2011. There are plaques in English and German to explain the site plan, the Roman sewage, plumbing, and heating systems, and the types of buildings. Some of the houses have been restored and provide a glimpse into the high standard of living available in Roman times.

For the festival, the grounds were strewn with souvenir stalls and demonstrations of weaving, forgery, tinsmithing, pottery, cooking, etc. There were places for children to make their own sword and shield or clay seal. Quite a few people were dressed in togas or legion costumes.

There were different military demonstrations every hour. We watched an entertaining demonstration of a legion training 2 new recruits in the art of using their shield and spear. The fair was very busy but well organized. The lineups for the water closets were short and the tables and garbage were kept quickly cleared to give everyone a chance to eat.

We then went in search of the arch. We quickly discovered that while you can clearly see the arch from the highway, you can't get to it from there. After driving around Petronell-Carnuntum a few times we remembered that the magic word was "Heidentor" and quickly found that nearly every side street in town had a brown sign pointing towards it. Ah yes, all roads lead to Rome...

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