About Maiden Castle
Maiden Castle is vast, well preserved Iron Age hill fort in Dorchester. Its name is believed to be derived from two Celtic words, ‘Mai’ and ‘Dun’, meaning “Great Hill”. Imposing and incredibly complex, Maiden Castle would certainly have posed a great challenge to anyone wishing to invade it!
Maiden Castle history
Whilst the site was initially occupied during the Neolithic period, the structure of Maiden Castle was built in the early Iron Age, circa 600 BC.
It would have started as a small settlement, but as its society grew so did Maiden Castle. At its peak, the site would have been heavily populated, filled with houses and workshops and would have been the size of fifty football pitches! Its immense scale was both intimidating to any enemies and a symbol of the power of its inhabitants.
In 43 AD, the Romans invaded Britain and within a few generations the inhabitants of Maiden Hill moved to nearby Durnovaria (modern day Dorchester).
Several fascinating finds have been made at Maiden Castle. For example, the archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler found an Iron Age cemetery there. Wheeler originally thought that this was a war graveyard and that those interred there were casualties from when the Romans invaded the site, yet with little evidence that the Romans ever invaded Maiden Castle, it is now considered more likely that this was a cemetery for the area’s inhabitants.
Nevertheless, the Romans did make a mark on the site of Maiden Castle. In the 4th century they built a temple there, the foundation stone of which is still in place, which was possibly used by the cult of Minerva.
Maiden Castle today
Today, Maiden Castle is an English Heritage site and is open to the public. Visitors can traverse its massive earthworks stretching over the hilltop, where it is easy to see their use both for defence and as an impressive display of power.
The hill fort had an eastern and a western entrance each with two portals that can still be viewed today, while outside the eastern entrance was a blacksmith’s workshop. The Romano-British temple is the only remaining structure within the fort, which consisted of a central room surrounded by a passage and a portico leading outside.
Getting to Maiden Castle
Maiden Castle is located Dorset, 2 miles southwest of Dorchester just off the A354 with parking available at the site. The nearest train station is Dorchester South/West, while the Damory 1 bus service to Maiden Castle Lane stops half a mile from the site.