…within the walls of the medieval castle stands a much older building, dating from a time when Britain was an outpost of the Roman Empire. Around 2,000 years ago, in the early 2nd century AD, the Romans built a pharos, or lighthouse, here. This would have guided the ships of a Roman fleet into the harbour below. Not only is the Dover pharos the most complete standing Roman building in England, it’s also one of only three lighthouses to survive from the whole of the former Roman empire.
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Seventy years after the Roman invasion in AD 43, construction of a fort began at the mouth of the river Dour. This was Dubris, a fort for the classis Britannica, a Roman fleet that patrolled the eastern Channel. Though building stopped suddenly, it began again around AD 130 and the fort was completed. The Romans built an octagonal tower-like lighthouse on Castle Hill around the same time [as the fort], with another on the opposite hill, the Western Heights. These lighthouses supported fire beacons to act as navigation lights for ships approaching the narrow river mouth, enabling them to find a quayside outside the fort. The fort at Dubris was demolished around AD 215 and a new one constructed around AD 270, which may have continued in use, along with the lighthouses, into the 5th century. The pharos was later reused for the church of St Mary in Castro as a chapel and bell tower, and can still be seen.
Roman pharos on the western heights of Dover (GB), inside view, 1893 (from Wikimedia Commons).
The Roman pharos or lighthouse at Dover was probably built in the first century A.D. A similar lighthouse was built on the Western Heights and at night guided Roman ships into the port of Dubris. The tower was octagonal outside and rectangular inside rising to a height of perhaps 80 feet (24m). It had eight storeys each set back 1 foot (0.3m) from the one below, which gave the whole structure the appearance of an extended telescope. Only the first four Roman storeys remain, the present topmost storey being a fifteenth century reconstruction. The present splayed shape of the pharos is a result of the severe weathering it suffers in exposed position and mediaeval refacing.
AD 46. Built under the Emperor Claudius. This guided the Roman fleet round to the port of Richborough. In mediaeval times it was used as a belfry to the Church of St Mary Sub-Castro. 4 storeys, 3 being Roman and the top storey and remains of battlements mediaeval. An octagonal tower with originally vertical stepped walls rising in tiers set back each within the last, now almost smoothed. Rubble with a facing of green sandstone and tufa and levelled at an interval of 7 courses with a double course of brick set in hard pink mortar. Round-headed windows with a small recessed spy-hole inside them.