What Is Dover Castle?

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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2019
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Dover Castle is a tourist attraction in Kent County, England, featuring a 12th century castle and the ruins of a Roman lighthouse. This castle is said to be England's largest castle. The grounds of the castle include so-called secret tunnels with historical significance, as well as a Great Tower in which visitors can experience dramatic re-enactments of courtly life during the time of King Henry II. This castle, which is considered a British historic site, has been used in the creation of several feature films such as 1990's "Hamlet" and 2003's "Johnny English."

King Henry II established Dover Castle in the 1180s by rebuilding and expanding fortifications that had been previously established by Anglo-Saxon use. The castle was built in a concentric fashion with several defensive layers radiating outward, and it is believed to be the first castle in this part of Europe to follow such a design. Dover Castle and its grounds have undergone several efforts at remodeling over the centuries, up to the 1870s.

A unique feature of Dover Castle's grounds is a series of underground tunnels, used for a variety of military and government uses beginning at the turn of the 17th century. The tunnels were initially used as temporary military barracks and storage space; they were said to have been the living quarters of 2,000 troops during the Napoleonic Wars. Later, the secret tunnels were used by government officials in an effort to prevent smuggling, before being abandoned for several decades.


During World War II, the underground tunnels at Dover Castle became important again when they were used as air raid shelters. Next, the tunnels were used as a secret hospital facility, a command center for military operations, and a telephone exchange for military communications with coastal vessels. In 1940, a number of British and French soldiers were evacuated into the tunnels from Dunkirk. Currently, visitors to Dover Castle can enjoy a guided tour of the underground tunnels.

Within the Great Tower, tourists can take part in re-enactments that dramatize the events of King Henry's court. Each detail, from the furnishings to food offered at a feast, is said to authentically represent the experiences of those who lived in the castle during Henry's reign. Actors in costume demonstrate the historical story of this king's problematic relationships with his two sons, known as Prince John and Richard the Lionhearted.

Both audio tours and guided tours can be requested at Dover Castle. Parking is available adjacent to the castle grounds. Restaurants and picnic facilities offer a choice of refreshments. The Dover Castle grounds offer accessibility for visitors with mobility, hearing, or visual impairments.


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