From the top of the white cliffs on a clear day, you can see the coast
of France, 21 miles away across the Channel. Dover is justly famous for
its imposing white cliffs, which buttress the end of the North Downs, but
Dover's real importance lies in the fact that it is and historically has been Britain's gateway to Europe, and Europe's gateway to Britain. |
In 55 BC, Julius Caesar landed near here with a force of about 6000 men,
in the first wave of Roman Invasion. Later, under the Romans, the walled
town of Dover was called Dubris, and was the beginning point on the important
Roman road, known as Watling Street. In the Middle Ages, Dover was chief
among the Cinque Ports, and enjoyed special privileges in return for providing
ships for the Royal Fleet.
The town is overlooked and dominated by the sprawling late Norman fortification
which sits atop Castle Hill. This strategic site has been used for defensive
positions ever since the Roman occupation. William the Conqueror valued
the spot so highly that he ordered his half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux,
to land at Dover with materials for erecting a castle in the event of a
Norman victory. Inside the outer wall of the present day castle still stands
the ancient ruin of a Roman lighthouse, known as a pharos. In the middle
ages, the pharos was incorporated into St. Mary's church and made its bell
tower. The foundations of the tower date from the first century AD, but
most of what is visible is medieval.
Dover Castle is the earliest English castle which has fortifications arranged
concentrically. The mighty central tower, almost 100 ft. square, rising
95 ft. with walls up to 21 ft. thick, is defended by an inner wall incorporating
fourteen towers, surrounded by an outer wall of nearly a mile in circumference,
incorporating twenty more towers. Dover has been called "England's
greatest castle." Its sheer size, strategic importance and the fact
that it has been used in virtually every war, rebellion or conflict since
the middle ages, including both World Wars of this century, lend strong
support to that claim. In addition to all this, legend has it that the head of King Arthur's knight, Sir Gawain, resides here (ed. note: it doesn't).
A modern traveler from Dover can choose to cross the Channel by ferry,
by boat train, by Chunnel or by Hovercraft. In the past, though, there have
been two other notable, and less commercial, Channel crossings involving
Dover. First, in 1875, Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim
the Channel. Then, in 1905, Louis Bleriot landed there after making the
first trans-Channel flight.
The town of Dover isn't a typical seaside tourist destination as most of
its visitors are in transit to somewhere else. It does offer some interesting
things, though, that you just won't see anywhere else, and, as such, is
definitely worth a visit.
Next stop: Canterbury, Kent
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