The Roman Lighthouse - History and Facts | History Hit

The Roman Lighthouse

Dover, England, United Kingdom

The Roman Lighthouse in Dover is a ruined first century AD Roman tower which is one of the best-preserved of its kind anywhere in the world.

Amy Irvine

29 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Roman Lighthouse

The Roman Lighthouse in Dover is a ruined 1st century AD Roman tower which originally served to guide shipping across the English Channel from France into the ancient Roman port and fort of Dubris – the site of present-day Dover. Today it is one of the best-preserved of its kind anywhere in the world.

History of The Roman Lighthouse

The Roman Lighthouse (Roman Pharos) is the oldest surviving lighthouse in the country – and one of the oldest in the world, dating from around 46-50 AD (during the reign of the Emperor Claudius) and just after the invasion of Britain in 43 AD.

The original octagonal structure was 24 metres tall and consisted of six to eight storeys of which only four remain today. It was apparently built as a replica to the design of Emperor Caligula’s lighthouse at Boulogne-sur-Mer near Calais on the northern coast of France, built in 40 AD. (There was a second Roman lighthouse at Breden-stone on the Western Heights but nothing much of that remains).

A beacon of fire would have burned on the top of the lighthouse enabling Roman sailing vessels crossing the channel between Gaul and Brittania to navigate their way safely into the harbour.

The Roman Lighthouse has been repaired and reconstructed over the centuries with the uppermost masonry being mostly medieval.

The Lighthouse now sits in the grounds of Dover Castle which was founded in the 11th century, directly alongside the late Anglo-Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro, which is itself constructed from Roman building materials, built in 1000 AD. The working church was partly rebuilt in the medieval era, and was restored by the Victorians after many years of neglect.

In the 13-14th century the lighthouse was in use as a church bell-tower and it was at this time the medieval stonework was added to strengthen the top 6 metre section, making it look more like a fortified ‘church tower’ with battlements.

The Roman Lighthouse today

Today the Lighthouse is only a four-storey building at 19 metres high, with the top floor section being a medieval restoration.

After nearly 2,000 years the original Roman stonework on the seaward-side is inevitably weather-worn and crumbly, though the top medieval section is still in a resonable state of repair.

Getting to The Roman Lighthouse

The Roman Lighthouse is located at the south-eastern side of Dover, Kent, along Mortimer Road on the promontory called Eastern Heights and in the grounds of Dover Castle, a 12th century Norman strong-hold. If travelling by car, use the A2 towards Dover – the entrance to Dover Castle is on Castle Hill Road (the A258).

The nearest station is Dover Priory (1 mile) with train services operated by Southeastern. Local bus services include routes 15, 15X, 80, 80A, 93.

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