From the baths of Brigetio to a ‘Roman Baths Visitor Centre

The area by the Danube embankment at Szőny, which is part of Komárom to the north-east of Budapest, although known by archaeologists for a long time and a protected archaeological site, has never received very much attention in the course of research connected with the Roman settlement of Brigetio. One reason for that is its location – the riverside with its bushes and weeds was considered as being on the edge of the ancient town. Another is that both the legionnaires’ camp and the civilian town of Brigetio provided plenty of archaeological work in recent decades. That situation changed in the summer of 2014 when work got underway between Komárom and Almásfüzitő within the framework of a specially identified flood protection project. The difficult terrain, where even the earlier above-ground finds didn’t promise much, was part of the densely built Roman town, with its well-preserved buildings of Brige­tio. Walls, floors, remains of floor and wall heating, threshold stones, water courses and fresco fragments were mixed with tombs embedded in buildings of the late Roman era across a total area of around 10,000 square metres. One large building, covering about 1000 square metres, has been identified as a baths complex. The current laws allowed us a total of 60 days for trial and preliminary archaeological excavation. However, the discovered buildings covering an area of several thousand square metres fell under the concept of a built cultural heritage to be protected, so from the professional point of view one possible solution came to the fore: protection of the site and modification of the line of the proposed dam. Rarely can we speak of a heritage protection or archaeological success story, but in this case we arrived at a situation which was beyond our hope. As a result of exemplary cooperation between the planners, those implementing the plan and the different authorities and offices, as well as state support, following the excavations, which began in August 2014, already by October an agreement was reached to modify the line of the dam, which in the end avoided the Roman site, thus allowing for further excavations to be undertaken. In the summer of 2016, with further support from the prime minister’s office, we were able to continue exploring the Roman baths. Thus an area covering 1500 square metres of the originally larger building was uncovered. Despite the fact that in medieval times and in the modern era the Roman walls of Brigetio were methodically exploited, we unearthed many building elements in an outstanding condition. What can be regarded as the real sensation, however, was uncovered last year with the discovery of an eight-square-metre section of fresco and stucco decoration. The excavated Roman baths on the Danube embankment make it possible for a long-envisaged visitor centre and archaeological park to be established in Komárom.