Old Sarum of Salisbury

Aug 30, 2017 0 comments

Old Sarum in Salisbury, England, is a historically important archeological site consisting of an Iron Age hillfort and what little remains of an 11th century royal castle and cathedral. Located about two miles to the north of the city center, this is where the history of Salisbury began. The site has been occupied successively by the Romans, the Saxons, and the Normans before the foundation of New Sarum, or Salisbury, in the thirteenth century.

Old Sarum was settled as early as 3000 BC. However, the protective hill fort was constructed only around 400 BC. It’s an impressive earthwork consisting of an outer ring of defensive wall and an inner rampart rising at an angle. The oval-shaped hill measures 400 meters by 360 meters across. Shortly after the Romans concurred the British in the 1st century CE, they occupied the hillfort and named it Sorviodunum. Not much is known about the Roman period but it has been suggested that they built a military fort within the earthworks and a civilian settlement outside.


Photo credit: English Heritage 

After the Romans went away, the hill came under the Saxons but they largely ignored the site until the threat of a Viking invasion in the 9th century led King Alfred to restore its fortification. For a while, there used to be a settlement there, but when it was sacked by the Danish in the 11th century, the settlers abandoned it.

The mediaeval castle was built in 1070 after the Norman conquest, and Old Sarum became the administrative center. It remained so for two hundred years until a new cathedral was built at a location several miles to the south. The settlement that grew up around the site of the new cathedral, later became the modern city of Salisbury.

The inhabitants of the new city gradually razed the old city, constructing Salisbury Cathedral and other buildings from the materials at Old Sarum. The castle was eventually demolished totally in 1322.

Today, little standing masonry survives at Old Sarum, but the earthworks are mostly well preserved.


Model of Castle and Cathedral of Old Sarum as they would have appeared in the latter part of the 12th century. Photo credit: Kurt Kastner/Wikimedia


The foundations of Old Sarum Cathedral. Photo credit: Charles D P Miller/Flickr


Photo credit: www.heritagecities.com

Sources: Britain Express / Wikipedia / English Heritage


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