The history of Guildhall and the Roman amphitheatre ruins beneath stretches back 2,000 years to London’s beginning, when the arena was the beating heart of the city, host to roaring crowds of spectators enthusiastically invested in the outcomes of wild animal brawls, gladiatorial combat and even the public executions common at the time. Though modern day events are not so bloody and brutal, even now Guildhall is the centre of London’s important ceremonies including HM The Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations and the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet.
The ruins, which uncommonly lie within the old city walls, weren’t discovered until 1988, a surprise during an archaeological dig to rebuild the Guildhall Art Gallery. Guildhall itself was constructed in the early 1400s, a symbol of the power and prestige of the capital and its leaders. Among historical events of interest, Guidlhall’s roof was victim to the Great Fire of London and was destroyed again in a Blitz air raid.
Today, visitors will find eight areas to explore: The impressive Great Hall with its gothic stained glass windows, the grand Old Library and Print Room once home to 126,000 books, the Grade II listed Livery Hall, the East and West Crypts which are the city’s largest surviving medieval crypts, the ornate Chief Commoner’s Parlour, the Basinghall Suite, the Guildhall Art Gallery which is home to the City Corporation’s art collection and the 1297 Magna Carta, and the ancient arena ruins themselves alongside the adjacent Undercroft Gallery.
Admission to the Guildhall Art Gallery and London’s Roman Amphitheatre is free but booking is required. Guided gallery tours lasting 30-45 minutes are available for individuals on Tuesday, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 12:15pm and 1:15pm. The resident archaeologist leads 45-minute tours of the amphitheatre, also bookable in advance.