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The 1st Century AD East Roman Pharos, Dover Castle, Kent, UK (1)

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Comments (20)

John Latter on October 23, 2007

The south face of the East Roman Pharos, or lighthouse, in the grounds of Dover's Norman Castle, adjacent to the Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro (the west end of the church is on the right of the above photo). The bottom 3 layers of the East Pharos are Roman, the top level medieval. Its twin, the Bredenstone or West Pharos, is located on the Western Heights in the Drop Redoubt.

I've only just started uploading photos of Dover Castle and already I'm bemused by some of the apparent discrepancies found both within and between various internet and non-internet sources regarding structures found within the Castle grounds.

As an example, a Dover Museum webpage (see "Roman Pharos") states:

Dover's Eastern Pharos stands to a height of 13 metres within the grounds of Dover Castle...

...As it stands today only the first four Roman stages survive, albeit in a weathered and in part refaced state. The remaining 5.8 metres was used as a medieval belfry.

On the assumption that 1 window = 1 level then there are only 3 Roman levels, topped by the obvious medieval restoration. Additionally, and even allowing for the crenellations (of which only one - on the right - can be seen from this angle), the medieval section looks to be no more than 2 or 3 metres in height. [See the UPDATE below]

In a similar manner, in researching the background to "Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol", I found some authorities claimed it to be brass while others said bronze. The problem is I simply don't have the time to chase all these things down!

The 1974 source quoted from below states the Pharos was originally 8 levels high while other sources, who will appear in the 'Comments' of other Pharos photos, claim there were only 5. The main info on the Pharos is in the second paragraph:

From "Dover Castle" by R. Allen Brown (Her Majesty's Stationery Office, HMSO 1974) (Abridged)

The church of St Mary-in-Castro and the Roman Pharos lie south of the Norman Keep, within the great horseshoe earthwork, sometimes called 'Harold's Earthwork' but now known to have been raised by Henry III. Upon it the same king later built a stone wall, in part remaining though much restored. South of it, on the counter-scarp of the ditch [moat], Edward I built a stone windmill now vanished. The whole overlies a lesser rampart of twelfth-century date, upon which King John in his time raised a wall, and beneath and within this again, immediately south of the church, traces have been found of an eleventh-century earthwork, here attributed to William the Conqueror in 1066.

In visiting this area one should observe the Colton Tower or Gate, basically a structure of King John's time, but its upper stages restored in the late fifteenth century when the windows on the north side towards the keep were inserted. The Roman Pharos or lighthouse probably dates from the first century AD. It was a tower octagonal outside and rectangular within, rising to a height of perhaps some 80 ft through eight stages, each stage having a vertical face set back about a foot from the one below, thus giving to the whole a stepped or telescopic outline. Its present splayed shape results from a combination of severe weathering and medieval refacing, and only the first four of the Roman stages now remain, the present topmost stage of some 19 ft being a fifteenth-century reconstruction (c. 1415-37). The tower was originally built of flint rubble, bonded with courses of tile and faced with tufa ashlar, the arches of windows and doors being turned with alternate tufa and tiles to produce a polychrome effect. The best-preserved Roman features are now the entrance on the south side, and various window openings especially the recess in the east inner side of the third storey. In the late Saxon period when the church was built the already ancient pharos became a free-standing western bell-tower to it.


The English Heritage webpage entry for the Roman Pharos agrees there are 3 Roman levels and 1 Medieval. On the other hand, it states the height to be 19 metres (over 60 feet) whereas every other source I've seen puts it at 13-14 metres (40 feet or so). I'll have to see if I can guesstimate the height on my next visit. Here's what English Heritage actually say:

[The Pharos is a] Roman lighthouse, one of a pair constructed during the reign of Emperor Claudius in AD 46 on the headland flanking either side of the major Roman port of Dubris. The lighthouse survives within Dover Castle and comprises an octagonal stepped tower approximately 19 metres and four storeys high. The fourth storey was reconstructed between 1415 and 1437 when the lighthouse had been adapted for use as a belfry to the church of St Mary-Sub-Castro [St Mary-in-Castro]. The original design of the top of the lighthouse has been destroyed by these alterations, making its functionality unclear. It is thought that both lighthouses were used during fine weather as sea-marks in guiding vessels into the harbour. At night this role would have augmented by fire-lit braziers situated at the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse may have also been used as a smoke beacon during certain weather and visibility conditions. Another possible role is as a signal tower. Medieval and later alterations within the immediate locality of the lighthouse have removed any possible evidence of structures associated with the running of the lighthouse. Changes to the lighthouse took place in 1582 when it was converted into a gunpowder magazine.

It is also interesting to note the construction date of 46 AD because other sources give the "second half of the first century", or "between 100 - 200 AD", and some even later! The English Heritage date also agrees with that indicated in "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover" by Reverend S. P. H. Statham, Rector of St Mary-in-the-Castle (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899):

We have no hesitation in ascribing the erection of these two towers (Pharos and Bredenstone) to the days of Aulus Plautius, and in believing them to be the earliest permanent Roman work executed in this country. [Page 221]

Aulus Plautius led the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, and became the first governor of the new province, serving from 43 to 47 AD.

The Reverend Statham also states:

In the days of Edward I, and as late as Elizabeth [ie Elizabeth I] the Pharos is spoken of as the "Tower of Julius Caesar" [1]. In the reign of Henry III, if not earlier, it was converted into a bell tower for the church (ie St Mary-in-Castro), and the date given by Lyon [2] of 1259 for the flint casing is probably right. [Page 213]

[1] In the English Heritage Pastscape entry for the Drop Redoubt it says:

[There are the] Remains of a Roman Pharos, originally one of a pair constructed around the 1st century AD on the headlands flanking the Roman port of Dubris. It was known as Bredenstone or Caesar's Altar during the 16th and 17th centuries and called the Devil's Drop during the 18th century.

So the East (Castle) Pharos was known as "Caesar's Tower" and the West (Bredenstone) Pharos as "[Julius] Caesar's Altar".

[2] The University of Kent at Canterbury has the following entry in its Local History Collection:

Lyon, J

The history of the town and port of Dover and of Dover Castle, with a short account of the Cinque Ports, 2 v , Printed by Ledger & Shaw for the author, 1813-14.

John Latter on November 18, 2007

The reason why some sources state the remains of the Pharos consists of four roman stages, while others say three, may be explained by this photo of the inner east wall.

ercan özer on December 15, 2007

i love this picture.ı am ercan from Turkey i wanna congratulate you for your these beautiful photos.

John Latter on December 15, 2007

ercan özer said:

i love this picture.ı am ercan from Turkey i wanna congratulate you for your these beautiful photos.

Thank you very much, Ercan :)

This view of the Pharos is one of my favourites, too - and it will be 2000 years old soon!

ercan özer on December 15, 2007

are you a student john i don't know but i'm sure that you are a professional photographer. i can speak a little english but i can explain my sense i think:) all off these photos are taken bye you jhon?

John Latter on December 15, 2007

**ercan özer88 said:

are you a student john i don't know but i'm sure that you are a professional photographer. i can speak a little english but i can explain my sense i think:) all off these photos are taken bye you jhon?

Your English is far better than my Turkish will ever be, Ercan - and I do understand the sense of what you've written!

Thank you again for your kind words. Unfortunately, however, I'm far too old (as this photo shows) to be a student.

On the other hand, I guess I'm a student of photography, rather than a professional, because I didn't really become interested in taking photos until March of this year.

Except for photos I appear in, and some black and white photos of Dover during World War Two, all of the photos were taken by me.

I look forward to seeing some more of your photos of Turkey :)

ercan özer on December 18, 2007

Dear Jhon, İ'm sorry for being late. We will celebrate our religious feast this friday and we have been cleaning our houses and making some kind of sweet cakes all week. thanks for your answers, i will try to load more photos.

John Latter on December 18, 2007

ercan özer said:

Dear Jhon, İ'm sorry for being late. We will celebrate our religious feast this friday and we have been cleaning our houses and making some kind of sweet cakes all week. thanks for your answers, i will try to load more photos.

I hope you enjoy your celebrations (and cakes!), Ercan - and I look forward to seeing more of your photos.

ercan özer on December 21, 2007

Thanks John

mmisiak on March 15, 2009

Very interesting castle, and good photo of tower :)

John Latter on March 15, 2009

mmisiak said:

Very interesting castle, and good photo of tower :)

Thank you :)

John Latter on November 14, 2009

Click to see an unusual view of the Pharos taken from the west (the only direction that 'removes' the church of St Mary-in-Castro from the frame).

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

John Latter on November 18, 2010

The Roman Pharos is a Grade I Listed Building (1).

The following is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence (PSI licence number C2010002016):

Building Details:

Building Name: THE ROMAN PHAROS Parish: DOVER District: DOVER County: KENT Postcode:


LBS Number: 177825 Grade: I Date Listed: 07/03/1974 Date Delisted: NGR: TR3260441815

Listing Text:

1. 1050 DOVER CASTLE The Roman Pharos TR 3241 1/48


2. AD 46. Built under the Emperor Claudius. This guided the Roman fleet round to the port of Richborough. In mediaeval times it was used as a belfry to the Church of St Mary Sub-Castro. 4 storeys, 3 being Roman and the top storey and remains of battlements mediaeval. An octagonal tower with originally vertical stepped walls rising in tiers set back each within the last, now almost smoothed. Rubble with a facing of green sandstone and tufa and levelled at an interval of 7 courses with a double course of brick set in hard pink mortar. Round-headed windows with a small recessed spy-hole inside them.

Listing NGR: TR3260541815

Source: English Heritage. Click to see photos of Listed Buildings and English Heritage locations in the town of Dover, England.

(1) Grade I: buildings "of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important".

John Latter on November 16, 2012

Also see an 1834 "in days gone by" woodcut of the Roman lighthouse and Saxon church at:

Georgian Engraving of St Mary-in-Castro Church and the Pharos, Dover Castle

A photo on the Pinterest Old Dover board.

Andrew S Hatton on June 8

I got here by a very circuitous route, but having scrolled through the existing comments and on being presented with a largish COMMENT SPACE BOX I am stimulated to acknowledge my presence.

Thanks for the fine image and all the scholarship that it both reveals and prompts.

I am fascinated, in a casual way, by signs of earlier human activity, which prompts such enquiries as, why here, why at that time, what had happened in those particular humans lives' that led to them taking such and such an action, and evermore spin offs?

Oh for reflective governance as the UK folk squirm around in intellectual turmoil, with most of us most of the time, considering little more than, such as - what is for breakfast and how might I escape my current inner turmoil?

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on October 10, 2007
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2007/10/05 15:40:43
    • Exposure: 0.008s (1/125)
    • Focal Length: 21.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/9.500
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash