Chichester (pop. 28,000) is the county capital of West Sussex. It is a small and pleasant town with a long history and a few interesting sights.
Chichester was founded as a Roman fort around 44 AD. A wooden palisade was built in the late 2nd century. A stone wall replaced it in the early 3rd century, later fortified with semi-circular towers.
A small wooden amphitheatre was built and sometimes held gladiator fights, or more usually animal fights. There was a temple dedicated to Neptune and Minerva, and Chichester even had several Roman villas with mosaic floors, painted walls, glass windows and a form of primitive central heating.
After the Romans left in the early 5th century, the Saxons establish themselves in the region, naming the Roman town Cissa Caester, which subsequently evolved into
Chichester. In 986, the Danish Vikings were routed near Chichester.
Chichester developed into a market town. The Normans built a wooden fort on a motte, but it was demolished in the early 1200's. In 1075, Chichester became a bishopric and a cathedral was errected between 1076 and 1108. It burnt down in 1114 , was rebuilt, but burnt again in 1187.
King Stephen gave Chichester its first charter in 1125. The town turned into an important port in the 13th century, exporting wool to the continent. Dominican and Franciscan friars arrived and settled in the 1200's, building several religious institutions
Chichester remained a small market town until the 19th century. In 1846, it became connected to Brighton by a railway, and one year later, to Portsmouth. The town's population still didn't exceed 9,000 souls at the dawn of the 20th century.
Chichester Cathedral (open 7:15am to 6:30pm, or until 7pm from June to August; entry £3) is one of England finest Romanesque churches. Originally built in 1076 (see History above), it was rebuilt in the 13th century, and the cloisters, south transept and the detached bell-tower (the only one left in England) were added in the 15th century. The spire was restored in the 19th century.The cathedral has a stained glass window by Marc Chagall and a painting by Graham Sutherland. A 360-degree virtual visit from 14 different points is available on the official website
The Church of the Greyfriars (open on Saturday from June to Sept. from 12noon to 4pm; admission free) was established in 1269 by Franciscan monks (aka Greyfriars) at the place where the castle once stood (see History). When Henry VIII dissolved the order in 1536, it became the guildhall, and later a law court.
The modern painting museum know as Pallant House is housed in a beautiful red-brick house from 1712. Its collection includes works by Picasso, Sutherland, Moore and Nash.
In the Western part of town, Fishbourne Roman Palace is a sumptuous Roman villa discovered by accident in 1960. The museum contains various Roman-era artifacts, mosaics, reconstruction drawings and models and has an audio-visual programme explaining the lot.
How to get there
Chichester is about 20km east of Portsmouth. It is best accessed by train. It is 1h45min from London's Victoria station (£17.70), 45min from Brighton (£8.20), 25min from Portsmouth (£5.10) and 20min from Arundel (£4.20).
National Express also has frequent buses to Portsmouth (35min to 1h10min, £3.20) and one daily bus to Arundel (20min £2).