Scottish Minister Backs Antonine Wall UNESCO World Heritage Site Bid

By Caroline Lewis | 21 June 2006
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photo of a ruined fort

Ruins of a fort at Bearsden at the western end of the Antonine Wall. Courtesy Historic Scotland

Scotland may gain a fifth World Heritage Site if a bid supported by the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport is successful.

The bid to give the Antonine Wall World Heritage status was given official backing by Patricia Ferguson MSP and five local authorities on June 20 2006, at a conference on the Frontiers of the Roman Empire attended by archaeologists from around Europe.

“The Antonine Wall is an outstanding archaeological treasure,” said the minister, “not just nationally but internationally.”

“It is wonderful that all five local authorities – East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire – have formally pledged their support to winning World Heritage Site status, gaining the worldwide recognition and protection it deserves.”

photo of a long ditch

The Wall at Watling Lodge, Falkirk. Courtesy Historic Scotland

Scotland currently has four World Heritage Sites: The Heart of Neolithic Orkney, St Kilda, Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, and New Lanark.

The Antonine Wall was the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire, and would become part of the existing trans-national Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site, along with Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Upper Raetian German Limes. The new bid also includes sites in Austria, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

The wall was built on the orders of Emperor Antoninus Pius following the re-conquest of Scotland by his army in 140-142 AD. It stretches 60km (37 miles) from Bo’ness on the River Forth to Old Kirkpatrick on the Clyde.

photo of a lawn with a series of holes in it.

Rough Castle Fort. Courtesy Historic Scotland

The ‘wall’ – consisting of a turf rampart on a stone base fronted by a deep, wide ditch – and its forts were only occupied for about 20 years. About two-thirds of it remains, with six miles of it looked after by Historic Scotland. The organisation also oversees four forts along the wall (Rough Castle, Castlecary, Croy Hill and Bar Hill), the bathhouse and latrine at Bearsden, a fortlet and three beacon platforms. Local authorities own other parts of the wall.

“This touch of Roman civilisation in central Scotland is a reminder of the many European links of our country,” said Patricia Ferguson at the conference reception “Archaeology, history, religion, law and education all provide strong traditional and living associations between Scotland and many of the countries represented here this evening.”

The push for WHS status has highlighted the threat to Kinneil Museum at Bo'ness, West Lothian.

The name Kinneil means 'Wall's End' and the museum tells the history of the Kinneil Estate, which includes an excavated Roman fortlet. Proposals to close the museum, due to low visitor numbers, were announced in February 2006, but there has been fierce opposition from local residents. A petition signed by 2,000 people was handed to Falkirk Council on June 21, calling for the museum to be kept and improved.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: