Channel 4‘s Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, from Darlow Smithson Productions and airing tonight (January 20), is a modern day spin on how the Romans created the architecture of an empire.
Julian Ware, Darlow Smithson Productions head of special projects and executive producer of the project says that the six-episode series was meant to “be the sugared pill that would get people to watch a subject that they might not normally choose to watch.”
DSP searched across England for six individuals in the building trade to tackle building a Roman villa, using the tools and materials that the Romans would’ve used.
“We did a lot of advertising in trade magazines and the sorts of magazines that builders would read,” says Ware. The production team also wanted to fully represent all of the trades necessary on the building site, from plumbers to carpenters, and they specifically could not have specialist expertise in historical building.
“They’d be able to articulate where the Romans were advanced because they do the job for real in the 21st century,” says Ware.
He also stresses that while the cast used historically correct tools and technology to recreate a villa, it was not re-enacting a build, and wasn’t required to don period costumes or act as Roman builders. That said, everything about the build itself was as authentic as it could be. The six builders had to chisel 150 tons of stone by hand to make building bricks and made mosaic floors themselves, out of clay and ox blood. It took the team six months to make the villa, which houses a three-room bathhouse, a steam room, bedroom and more.
The Roman villa was built in Wroxeter, a town in Shropshire, which was the fourth largest Roman city in Britain and the westernmost city in the Roman Empire. The villa was built upon the area where the old forum was, which Ware says caused a few problems as they could not disturb the old archaeology.
English Heritage will take ownership of the villa in February and make it available to the public.
“The great thing is that it has a life beyond the program, because English Heritage will open it to the public and hopefully it will help bring history alive not just on TV, but to people who go and visit the site, for years after [the airing of the program],” he says.