Exploring the Roman Heritage of Austria:
Carnuntum & Archaeological Park

The Heidentor in a field of rape in summer of 2003

The name of the small town of "Carnuntum" doesn′t just sound Latin, it is: This community was once the most important Roman settlement in the province of Pannonia. Today, it is one of the tourism hubs of Lower Austria, despite of being located in a rather quite corner of the country. Antique Carnuntum was founded as an army base for the XV (15th, in case you were wondering) legion around 40 AD. Over the course of the decades that followed, Carnuntum developed rapidly, since the soldiers (a big economic factor) attracted other settlers and traders discovered the strategic location of Carnuntum.

Another shot of the Heidentor, four years later

It controlled both the Eastern border of the Imperium Romanum and had access to the "Amber Road". This important trade route connected the Baltic region with the Mediterranean. Only a few decades after the foundation of Carnuntum, the town became the capital of Upper Pannonia and reached a population of 50,000, which by far exceeds the town′s current number of residents.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius took advantage of Carnuntum′s location in his wars against the Germanic tribes of Marcomanni and Quadi between 171 and 173 AD. Even more importantly, he wrote his book "Meditationes" here. Two other big events in history to which Carnuntum served as a stage was the decision to make the local general Septimius Severus Emperor of the Imperium in 198 AD and a conference that Emperor Diocletian organised here in 307 AD in a rather futile attempt to consolidate the Roman claims on the Eastern and Western Roman empires.

Archaeology Attractions in Carnuntum

Panonnia was finally abandoned by the Romans around 400 AD and on contrast to the neighbouring province of Noricum, which remained under Roman control for longer than even Rome itself, it was conquered by the Goths in the early 5th century. Carnuntum soon fell under disrepair as thousands of the town′s residents left. Today, the modern (well, sort of modern that is) village of Petronell-Carnuntum has grown around the Antique ruins.

A Ziesel, a local rodent

They are a subject of archaeological excavations for many decades (or centuries) and the "Archäologischer Park Carnuntum" connects several of the most interesting sites. They are divided into three zones, Kernzone I, II and III. Kernzone I consists mostly of a museum for the key findings, Kernzone II of the former military camp and Kernzone III of the civil town.

The museum ("Archäologisches Museum Carnuntum") is actually outside the modern village and in the neighbouring Bad Deutsch-Altenburg. It is housed in a super-size Roman villa built in 1904. The finds that are presented in the museum can hold up with a number of Italian museums (not the best ones, though) and should be a must for every visitor of Carnuntum. The civil town has little to show beyond foundations, but there are audio guides available for background information.

More Excavations & Nearby Sights

Highlights inside and outside the civil town include a chunk of the Limes road and wall, public baths and two large amphitheatres. Interestingly enough, the first time I came to Carnuntum was for the sake of biology rather than history, as the Amphitheatre II, which once seated some 13,000 Romans, is now home to a large population of "Ziesel". These shy rodents look a bit like miniature marmosets and are easy to spot as well as a pain to take pictures of.

However, the ultimate highlight of Carnuntum and its trademark is the "Heidentor" ("Pagan′s Gate"). This enormous triumph arch was built outside the town and now stands in the middle of the fields. After being used as a quarry for many centuries, only the excellent labels recall its original shape and splendour. There are busses that run between the different sites of Carnuntum, although travelling by car is certainly an advantage.

Other nearby attractions include the Seewinkel Area, the Marchfeld Plain with its numerous castles and the National Park Donauauen. Carnuntum makes a good destination for a day-trip from Vienna and is the home of excellent wines. Roman festivals are held every year and the Archaeological Park organises events throughout the main season.

Back to: "Lower Austria Sightseeing Guide"

Sightseeing by Austrian Province

Bregenz and Vorarlberg - Innsbruck and Tyrol - Salzburg - Salzkammergut - Graz and Styria - Klagenfurt and Carinthia - Wachau and Lower Austria - Vienna - Burgenland

Further Reading

Official Website of Petronell-Carnuntum

Archaeology Park Carnuntum

Wikipedia on the Roman Sites of Carnuntum

Official Website of Lower Austria