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East Roman Pharos from the North, Dover Castle, Kent, United Kingdom

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Comments (12)

John Latter on October 12, 2007

The north face of the East Pharos (lighthouse) of which only 4 levels now remain (3 Roman surmounted by a medieval addition - see the south face). It is located in the grounds of Dover's 12th Century Norman Castle, adjacent to the Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro, and is the earliest standing Roman structure in Britain.

The first item of interest in the above photo is the small square brownish stone set into the wall at the bottom left of the center upper window. From "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):

The [Pharos] was repaired and cased with flint, according to Lyon [see [2] below], in "the year 1259, when Richard de Grey, of Codnore [alt. Codnor, Derbyshire], was Constable of the Castle; and his arms, cut in a small square stone, were placed on the north side of the tower, and are still remaining there. A barry of six, argent and azure [ie silver/white/blank and blue]." [Page 213]

NB The 'green ribbon' to the right of the central window is, of course, a lightning conductor.

The second item of interest in the photo is the west wall of the nave. There is more to St Mary-in-Castro than meets the eye and this will be more fully explored (as far as time and inclination allow) when photos of the church are finally uploaded. For the moment, the following quote from Statham's "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover" will be sufficient to establish a particular relationship between the church and the East Pharos:

From an examination of these buildings we find that an arched passage existed on the ground floor between the Pharos and nave, the remains of the arch are still clearly visible, whilst, beneath the surface, of the ground, the solid concrete foundations for the connecting walls remain intact. Entrance to the tower was gained through a portal in the west face of the tower wall, remains of which opening were discovered by the clerk of the works during Sir G. Scott's [see below] restoration. It was therefore easy to pass through the entire length of the structure, from the Pharos to the tower, upon the ground floor.

It is quite clear, from the existence of a second series of openings some sixteen feet above the ground level, that a first floor existed in the Pharos. It is remarkable that what Sir G. Scott very rightly describes as the "doorway " in the west wall of the nave corresponds exactly, so far as height and width and level above the ground are concerned, with the opposite opening in the Pharos. There is no doubt that a passage across the top of the arched approach beneath provided an easy means of communication between the two buildings at this point. Whether a gallery was placed in the, nave, communicating through a door with the tower is uncertain, the present windows are said to be typically Saxon, although that is open to question, but even that would not prevent them having taken the place of smaller openings which could have been used for defensive purposes. We are inclined to think that this may have been the case, and that a through communication was also possible on this storey.

Ascending again some sixteen feet in the Pharos another storey was reached, well defined by three windows on the north, west and south sides, as well as by another opening towards the church. The west wall of the nave is pierced at this point by two openings, with brick capitals, which seem to be of a later date, and probably superseded the original single opening. A floor or connecting gallery must have existed in the nave at this level, as we find a wide door pierced in the west wall of the tower, which was evidently meant to connect it with the nave and Pharos. No attempt has hitherto been made, so far,as we know, to explain the presence of these various openings on the same level in the east and west walls of the nave and Pharos, they could not have been made for ornament, and were presumably made for use. To what use could they be put except their natural one as a means of egress and ingress? [Pages 228 - 229]

The "Sir G Scott" referred to is the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott who, along with Canon John Puckle, was involved in the restoration of St Mary-in-Castro between 1860 - 1862. Quotations from Canon Puckle's "The Church and Fortress of Dover Castle" (published 1864) will accompany photos of the church.

Standard Info

The English Heritage webpage entry for the Roman Pharos [*see below] states:

[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 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 says:

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] The English Heritage Pastscape entry for the Drop Redoubt states:

[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.

*In the 'Comment' appended to the first Pharos photo uploaded I wrote:

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.

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!

Except for the possible exception for the height given, the English Heritage site seems the most accurate source to quote and will be used in the "Standard Info" for all Pharos photos.

John Latter on November 15, 2007

The West Pharos, or Bredenstone, referred to above is located in the Drop Redoubt on the Western Heights.

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.

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".

Marcelo Garcia Guerr… on July 9, 2011

Beautiful picture, I like the sun reflection on the stone, best wishes.

John Latter on July 10, 2011

marcel_pics, on July 10th, 2011, said:

Beautiful picture, I like the sun reflection on the stone, best wishes.

I'm pleased you like it, Marcel - Thank you!

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.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on October 11, 2007
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2007/10/05 16:11:33
    • Exposure: 0.011s (1/90)
    • Focal Length: 33.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/8.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash