Tales of a 50-Plus History-Lovin' Traveler

Up-Close with Fishbourne Roman Palace

Up-Close with Fishbourne Roman Palace
This blog post contains affiliate links and images. Read more of my disclosure policy here.
In August of 1960, a workman repairing a water main in Southern England hit a rock that he could not dig around. The immovable object was the first evidence of a boundary wall surrounding the Roman Palace at Fishbourne. In the following 10 years, excavators uncovered a residence containing dozens of rooms and elaborate gardens. Most importantly, they exposed the near-perfect 2,000 year-old mosaic floors, which lay preserved under the Sussex soil for centuries.
Reconstruction Fishbourne Roman Palace
Reconstruction of the Fishbourne Roman Palace Photo credit to: Sussex Archaeological Society


Invading Romans established Fishbourne as a fort sometime after 43AD. The structure eventually transformed into a luxury villa by the end of the 1st century. No definitive owner names are associated with the Palace. It may have been a regional seat of governance. Perhaps the owner was a Celtic Client King or a Roman administrator.
Visitors to the villa entered through a large entrance hall opening into an enclosed courtyard. Most of the over 100 rooms opened into this well lit yard for fresh sea breezes and sunshine.  Beautiful mosaic floors and elaborate wall paintings decorated every room. Excavations show the initial floors to be simple black and white geometric designs as the local populace did not contain mosaic artisans. However, 100 years later, the next generation mastered these skills. Classical roman style mosaics with dolphins, nymphs and roman gods replaced the original simplistic geometric patterns.
Around 275 AD, a fire consumed Fishbourne Palace, completely destroying the residence. Over time, people occupied the ruins, but did not rebuild to the grandeur of before. Excavators discovered one of these “squatters” buried at the site with the remains now located “in-situ” in the museum.
Fishborne Palace with Guide
A guide at Fishbourne Roman Palace shows visitors the mosaics uncovered 50 years ago. © Sussex Archaeological Society


Only parts of the north wing of the palace survive today. The remainder of the Palace is covered by the nearby roadways or other properties. The excavated palace is on display in a large, enclosed building with wood walkways suspended over the ruins. You get a great view of all the detailed mosaics, including “Cupid on a Dolphin” which is made up of 360,000 mosaic tiles. Aside from the museum, there are the gardens.  No extant records of the gardens have been found, but the property is filled with plants known to grow during the Roman occupation.


This museum is an incredible experience.  The mosaics are SO well preserved and intricate.  The walkways are wide and allow you the opportunity to see everything up close. And most of all, the museum staff are incredibly eager and informative to visitors. There are the obligatory creepy mannequins garbed in Roman clothing, but the mosaics make up for it. In conclusion, make it a “Must-See!”


Fishbourne Roman Palace
Address: Roman Way, Fishbourne, West Sussex, England, PO19 3QR
Attraction Type: Roman Site
Location: off A27
Website: Fishbourne Roman Palace
Phone: 01243 785 859

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