The two oldest buildings at Dover castle are located on the highest point of the grounds. It was also the site of a castle that pre-dates Henry II’s which you can read about here if you missed it. Walking up to this area at Dover Castle is breathtaking. Not only do you get the pleasure of viewing some Roman ruins and a beautiful Anglo-Saxon church, but you have the English Channel just gleaming in the background. This just proves that having a great view has been important since at least the second century AD, when the lighthouse was constructed.
The Roman Lighthouse
I must admit, when I visited Rome I got bored very quickly. I love history, but paying money to see ruin after ruin was mentally draining. Eventually a pile of rocks looks like a pile of rocks, no matter what the sign in front tries to convince you otherwise. I mention this, because the Roman lighthouse in Dover is extraordinary. You won’t be looking at a pile of rocks here, the lighthouse is still very much intact. Unlike the South Foreland Lighthouse, this one would have had a burning fire at the top to shine it’s light. It is believed that this lighthouse was one of two, which worked as a pair in conjunction with a third across the Channel in France.
The lighthouse is built in an octagonal shape and once had five floors inside it. There are references to this lighthouse up until the 12th Century which suggest that it was still in use at that time. In the 1500’s the lighthouse was converted into a storage facility for gunpowder.
St. Mary in Castro
Directly next to the lighthouse stands the Anglo-Saxon church of St. Mary in Castro. This church is the best preserved Saxon building in all of Kent, and one of the finest in England. The church dates back to 1000 AD, and despite many renovations throughout the years, much of it remains original.
The church was likely originally built as a Royal building but has served the castle community for the majority of its life. The beautiful vaulted ceilings, some of the windows, and the north doorway were probably added by Henry II when he refurbished Dover Castle. By the 17th Century however, the church was largely in ruins. It served as a ball court during the Napoleonic Wars, followed by a coal storage room.
In the latter part of the 19th Century the church was restored and re-roofed by architect Sir George Gilbert. Another architect followed him by decorating St. Mary in Castro with mosaics and a tiled floor much like it is seen today. Services at the church continued throughout World War II, despite the air raids that threatened it. St. Mary in Castro once again serves the Dover community as a working place of worship and if you are attending a service you won’t need to pay admission onto the grounds.
The Roman lighthouse and St. Mary in Castro offer an interesting look at the long and varied history of Dover Castle’s grounds. Even if you have no interest in history or churches, the views from the location are incredible and worth the walk alone. This is my final piece on Dover Castle, I can’t recommend it enough. If you are interested in visiting Dover, England you should also check out the White Cliffs!