(Portus Dubris - The Port on the River Dubras)

Pharos at Dover Castle. Octgonal top built in later timesTHE PHAROS

Described as Portus Novus by Ptolemy's Geography, Dover on the river Dour has one surviving Lighthouse (Pharos) from Roman times. These days it's just an empty structure in the grounds of Dover Castle on the Eastern Heights more or less overlooking the ferry terminal. At one time another lighthouse was situated on the Western Heights just across the other side of the town  - this from a fragment of tile stamped CLBR (Classis Britannica), the Roman Navy.

Pharos and Dover Castle. Octagonal top built in later timesIn my images here the octagonal top of the lighthouse is a mediaeval extension to the Roman base (~3m high). The original pharos must have been at least 20m. high. As you can see the structure has the usual bonding tile levelling courses is made of faced sandstone and tufa (from Maidstone?) and dates from the first century, probably after AD85. The masonry of the pharos contains no re-used materials indicating its early date. The presence of two lighthouses, one on either side of the port and town, being the only gap in 22 miles of continuous cliffs, indicates that they were intended to show the way to the harbour. The River Dour at this time was tidal and as wide as 1000ft, the tidal range at that time being somewhere around 3m. CB galleys, auxiliary ships and cargo boats would have tied up alongside quays all the way along the length of the estuary, perhaps as much as a mile inland; some boats will have been beached, I assume. The main entry point for Britannia shifted from Richborough to Dover sometime in the early second century. A reciprocal lighthouse has been found at Boulogne (Portus Itis) in France.


Roman Painted HouseThe house, only discovered in the nineteen seventies, dates from around AD200. At first it was thought to have been a town house for a wealthy individual but now it is believed to have been an extensive two storey mansio with as many as 80 rooms or more owing to its great proximity to the home of the Classis Britannica navy (first) fort at Dover. The remains of the house are built over an earlier structure from about AD150 and there was also evidence of stone age occupation of the site. This house visible now has five rooms and a narrow hallway; three of these rooms had heating from an under floor hypocaust system complete with hiddenOuter wall of mansio internal wall flues to create a draught for their fires. (see my shaky outer wall image with small arched furnace flue left) - it seems then that each of these particular rooms had its own outdoor furnace rather than one large one which serviced a whole suite of rooms. The outer wall has the characteristic layer of red levelling tiles. 

Detail - fluted columnThe reason, of course, that the house got its name is due to the finely painted, plastered walls, up to 6 feet high in places, still to be seen; the best example north of the alps. This room (ca. 18 x 16 ft) contains the finest wall painting from Roman times in Britain. My images here show the trompe l'oeil detail of one of the fluted column bases and panels containing various motifs, largely it seems of Bacchus,Detail - painted plaster in corner of room above god of wine, Ariadne etc. The design on the wall of Room 2 (left) was split in three layers, for instance, a green and yellowish- pinkish dado and then the rectangular panels containing motifs above (about  five per wall.) There are no mosaics as these are a much later feature of house building.


In AD270 a new Roman fort was built to replace the older CB fort (north gate and bastion of the original fort, on the left here) as part of the series of Saxon Shore Forts built around the coast to garrison soldiers for protection from raids from abroad, Saxons etc. Sadly, the house was in the way and the Romans just built their new fort and later a substantial bastions where they wanted it and pushed their defensive wall straight through the house which can still be seen. Fortunately, this actually saved the remains of the house which we see today because an earth-filled rampart was also built against the wall as part of their SS fort. This was made of rubble and then clay and covered the remains of the house, preserving it and its trompe l'oeil architectural wall paintings for us to see.

Saxon Shore Fort - DoverThe Romans had their British fleet at Dover complimenting the French port on the other side at Boulogne (Portus Itis). The original fort stood beneath Dover Western Heights. I show here a photo of the north gate, still visible in the open today behind the Discovery Centre. The first fort had a garrison of men in its two barrack locks, along with a Principia and granaries. By AD270 though things were not going well in Dover, increasing raids from Saxon marauders/pirates all around the Essex, Kent and Sussex coasts meant that superior defensive positions were required.

Aerial image of dover with Saxon Shore fort superimposedDiscovered remains of S.S.FortThe old fort which had served well enough was dropped and a new fort constructed in its stead. It was larger, had a massive stone wall and bastions in the usual Roman style and had an enormous ditch surrounding it, it seems. Most of the fort area has gone except that there are portions still surviving at the Dover Discovery Centre - my image here shows some remains, not usually available to the public, preserved inside the library section. For those who know Dover here is my aerial photograph with the approximate size and shape of the Saxon shore fort superimposed.


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