The centre of Chichester still follows the layout of the city built by the Romans in the 1st century AD. The four main streets, North, South, East and West radiate out from the centre, following the lines of the original Roman street plan. There was a settlement here long before the Romans arrived, but with their arrival, the town was transformed into an important base camp. They named it Noviomagus, the new city of the plain. In about 200AD great walls were built around the city for protection, with a huge gate at each of the four compass points. Most of these walls have since crumbled and the few sites of city walls that can be found now are mediaeval rather than Roman.
It was the Normans who turned Chichester into a cathedral city, work starting on the cathedral in 1091. Its magnificent spire (277 feet high) can be seen from miles out to sea. Today, the cathedral stands largely as it was completed in the 13th century.
Chichester's importance has continued through the ages, as a significant market town serving the extensive farming community of the South Downs, and as the official county town of West Sussex.
In 1960 an accidental discovery of a mosaic floor by some builders led to the uncovering of one of the largest Roman buildings ever found in Britain - Fishbourne Roman Palace. This one-time military base had grown into a magnificent palace, and it has now been painstakingly uncovered by archaeologists. The mosaic floors have been restored, gardens re-planted in the original, formal style, and much of it has been enclosed in a modern visitor centre.
Chichester prides itself on being a cultural centre. This reputation was reinforced during the 1960s with the construction of the Chichester Festival Theatre, which has gone on to become one of the best-equipped theatres in the country. Its presentation of classical and contemporary theatre has earned it an international reputation. Chichester also promotes itself with the annual Chichester Festivities; over two weeks of song, dance and entertainment at dozens of venues in and around the city.
Although at first glance Chichester does not appear to be a coastal town, it does have a very significant harbour, courtesy of a huge network of inlets and waterways that lie between it and Portsmouth. Consisting of around 27 square miles of navigable water, this area is a haven for a variety of waterfowl, plants and marine life, while at the same time providing a safer, sheltered environment for water sports such as sailing and angling.
A few miles north-east of Chichester stands Goodwood House; an 18th-century mansion built on the site of a former hunting lodge. Now owned by the Earl and Countess of March, the house and grounds are open to the public for one or two days each week during the summer season. You can admire the elegance of the Regency state apartments, and view one of the most significant private art collections in the country. There are also outstanding collections of furniture, porcelain and tapestries to be seen. Several important sporting events are hosted at Goodwood. For motoring fans there is the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June, and in August/September, a chance to revel in some motoring nostalgia with the Goodwood Revival. And for aficionados of horsepower of a different type, Goodwood racecourse hosts many important events in the racing calendar.
If you're fond of visiting stately homes and gardens such as Goodwood, you may also enjoy West Dean Gardens with its variety of different gardening styles, or Earnley Gardens at nearby Earnley.
There are several fascinating museums in and around Chichester. Try the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, or for a more down to earth experience, the Weald and Downland Museum at Singleton. Unusually, Chichester also has its very own planetarium, the South Downs Planetarium.