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April 25, 2007

Old Sarum

Mausi and the Monk have been exploring a bit of the South of England. Taking a scenic route they stopped at a place called Old Sarum. Fascinating site, indeed. On a hill near Salisbury with a commanding view over the
surrounding landscape traces of settlements from the Iron Age to Medieval times were found. Standing on this hill you easily understand why the first people to come here choose the hill to build a massive Iron Age fortification on top. The precise date is unknown but it may well have been around 400 BC. This ancient hillfort was protected by an outer and an inner rampart. The outer rampart encloses 29 acres, quite a big site. Iron Age hillforts served many purposes such as acting as markets, storehouses, religious sites and last but not least as protective enclosures into which the local population and their livestock could retreat in times of danger.

In 43 AD the Romans came along and occupied the top of the hill until the early fourth century. During the Roman period Old Sarum starts to appear in documents as Sorviodunum. Three Roman roads from the north and east
converged at the hillfort. It must therefore have been quite a busy place with Roman settlements outside the ramparts.

In 1070 William the Conqueror decided to build a royal castle in this spot, the ruins of which can still be seen on the hilltop.

Ruins of William the Conqueror's royal castle with the remains of the mighty keep in the background to the left

For this purpose he very cleverly divided the old hillfort in two. An inner set of fortifications protected the castle itself, a complex of towers, halls and apartments. This was surrounded by a huge outer enclosure or bailey. This was also home to a small cathedral. Unfortunately, it was heavily damaged by a severe thunderstorm on 10 April 1092, only five days after its consecration. But under Old Sarum's most influential bishop, Roger, both castle and cathedral were rebuilt and added to in the beginning of the 12th century.

Layout of the first and the rebuilt cathedral of Old Sarum

Despite all these efforts neither cathedral nor castle were occupied for long. In 1220 the cathedral moved down into the valley below and is now known as Salisbury Cathedral. Apparently only a handful of people continued
to live within the castle until about 1400.

Posted by Mausi at April 25, 2007 04:01 PM

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