Durnovaria is the original Roman name for what is now the English town of Dorchester.
Though Dorchester is best known for its connection to Thomas Hardy, Durnovaria remains a fascinating town in its own right, and has a number of museums covering subjects such as dinosaurs, Tutankhamun, and military history.
History of Durnovaria
Durnovia’s pre-Roman population centre appears to have been at the hill fort of Maiden Castle, which is 2 miles outside of the town centre. The inhabitants seem to have resisted the invasion, with their war cemetery being excavated in the 1930s.
The site of present-day Dorchester itself may have originally been a small garrison fort. After the military moved away in around 70 AD, Durnovaria became a civilian settlement, with an organised street plan being laid out and dotted with public buildings such as a thermae.
There is also evidence of public amusements, with excavations carried out in 1908-12 revealing the full extent of the ‘Maumbury Rings’, which was an ancient British earthwork that was repurposed by the Romans as an amphitheatre.
There were many fine homes for rich families, with excavated mosaic floors suggesting that the school of art had a workshop in the town. A large late-Roman and Christian cemetery has been excavated at Poundbury just to the west of the town. Little is known of Durnovia’s decline after the end of Roman rule.
Today, Durnovaria still has some Roman remains, which include part of the town walls and the foundations of a Roman town house, which are freely available to access near the County Hall. The County Museum is also home to many finds.
Traces of an aqueduct, which the Romans built to supply the town with water, are available to see at nearby Whitfield Farm. Poundbury Hill, a Bronze-age fortification, is also available to see nearby.
Getting to Durnovaria
From the city of Exeter, Durnovaria (Dorchester) is reachable in around an hour and a half by car, via the A35. There’s also a regular connecting train service – the Grand Western and Southern Western Railways – which take between 3 and 4 hours and depart from Exeter St. Davids.
From London, the Dorchester is reachable in just under 3 hours via the M3, with regularly departing Grand Western and Southern Western Railway trains from Paddington taking just over three hours.