Currently under the management of Chester City Council, the Roman amphitheatre at Chester was the largest of its kind in Britain. Used for both entertainment purposes and military training, there have been two stone-built amphitheatres built on the site throughout its history.

The first amphitheatre on the site included access to the upper tiers of seats via stairs on the rear wall, such as found at Pompeii, and also included a small shrine next to its north entrance. The second structure on the site provided seat access via vaulted stairways. The two buildings differed from all other British amphitheatres, being a lot more complex and closer to their true Roman inspiration, underlining the importance of Roman Chester.

The amphitheatre was building during the 1st century AD, at a time when many such structures were being built across the nascent Roman Empire. It wasn’t included inside the occupying fortress at Chester, as it was obviously seen as a facility for entertainment and training, and therefore didn’t require the same degree of protection as the rest of the area.

Only about two-fifths of the overall structure is currently visible. The rest still lies unexcavated behind a brick wall, preserving the ruins until more funding is secured to get a more permanent structure for conservation purposes, like those found at Fishbourne Roman Palace or the London Mithraeum. Another complication in this long-term plan is that the southern half of the structure is covered by buildings, some of which are also listed buildings with historic interest.

Despite its iconic place in the Chester story, the amphitheatre actually never really enjoyed a long period of use. By the 120s AD artefacts and excavations have shown that the site had already become derelict and was being used as a rubbish dump. This was around the time of the Twentieth Legion of the Roman Army being posted north to help build Hadrian’s Wall.

In around AD 275 Chester amphitheatre was brought back into use, with new paving being laid inside the arena, a shrine to the goddess Nemesis was refurbished and a colonnade was added to the east entrance. Faring better than its first session in use, Chester’s site remained functioning for around 75 years, finally being abandoned about AD 350.

A level pavement and footpath surround the excavated areas of the ampitheatre, which allow a clear view down to the main arena and walls. The central theatre area is only accessible via small staircases, so is sadly not accessible for people with mobility issues or in wheelchairs.