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The Wall today

As you know, this course has focussed overwhelmingly on the first three centuries of Hadrian’s Wall, the ‘Roman centuries’ and their immediate aftermath, but as we have also stressed this week the story of the Wall does not stop there.

The modern visitor will not see the full height or length of Hadrian’s Wall. Much of it is lying under the city of Newcastle in the east, or has been completely robbed of stone by farmers of centuries past in the west. The most impressive remains, along the Whin Sill in the central sector, only represent one portion of Hadrian’s great frontier work.

Hadrian’s Wall was amongst the first monuments to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site – that is a site of value not only to the people of Britain, but to the people of the World. With that designation comes a number of challenges.

For example, Newcastle is a modern, bustling city, with an ever-growing urban infrastructure. How are archaeological remains protected in an environment where construction and development must take place? And in the countryside? Farmers must have land to graze livestock and grow crops. How can the rural land best serve contemporary farming needs and still preserve and present the archaeology?

And what of the role of the visitor? The most famous and iconic sites, such as Vindolanda and Housesteads, are blessed with high visitor numbers. But high visitor numbers can sometimes be detrimental, as along the National Trail, where too many feet can be a source of erosion and damage to the monument.

Last, and certainly not least, we must not forget the role and impact of the Wall for local communities. For some people, the Wall has been part of their farmlands for generations, and there can be a sense of local pride associated with the World Heritage Site.

If you visit the Wall today, you find a picturesque landscape, tailored to the heritage tourist. But it is important to remember that even today, this Wall links diverse communities across the country, with different needs and expectations.

  • What do you think is the role of the Wall in the contemporary world?

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This article is from the free online course:

Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Newcastle University

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