THE place where charioteers started and finished their races at Colchester’s Roman circus could be open to the public by next summer.

Colchester Archaeological Trust has been given planning permission for a project which will allow visitors to look at the foundations of the circus’s starting gates and watch re-enactments of scenes last seen almost two millennia ago.

The trust has permission to redevelop the Army Education Centre, near the starting gates, and hopes to move into the former Garrison building in February.

Director Philip Crummy said the final details were being ironed out before the move would take place and work started on making the starting gates accessible to the public.

He added: “Once we’re in, we should then be able to start work in the garden, so we can get it open to the public later in the year.”

The gates were found in the ground of the Sergeants’ Mess, next to the education centre and can be reached through the centre’s garden.

Initial attempts to buy the officers’ mess building foundered despite a successful public appeal for donations and cash pledges.

The actual foundations of the gates lie underground and cannot be left open to the elements or they would be damaged.

Instead, the trust plans to create replicas of them above ground, with two of the areas glass-topped, protecting the Roman remains below, but allowing them to be viewed.

There will also be displays showing how the circus would have looked in its heyday, in 150AD.

Nearby, earth mounds will be heaped up to mark were the race track’s western end lay. These may also serve as seating areas for chariot racing re-enactments.

Mr Crummy said: “It’s an exciting prospect and we’re all looking forward to it, but we need to get into the building now.

“I’m conscious people have contributed and I’m grateful they’re all still patient, but it’s been a while and we want to get on with it.”

The trust paid £250,000 for the building, getting a mortgage to top up money donated by individuals and businesses in town as a result of a high-profile appeal last year.

It is now looking to raise further money – as much as £1million – to convert the education centre into a full-blown visitor centre with displays explaining how the circus operated, plus a tea room.

The trust plans to apply for lottery grants for the project, as well as seeking donations.