by Ben Johnson
Maiden Castle is the largest Iron Age hill fort in Europe and covers an area of 47 acres. ‘Maiden’ derives from the Celtic ‘Mai Dun’ which means ‘great hill’. It is situated just 2 miles south of Dorchester in Dorset. It is truly an amazing place: even after more than 2000 years, the earthworks are immense, some ramparts rising to a height of 6 metres (20 feet).
It is thought that the construction of Maiden Castle began around 3000 BC and flint tools and other object dating from that time have been found. The late Stone Age/ early Bronze Age people who lived there built a massive ditch and bank some 545 metres in length. There are Bronze Age burial mounds on the right hand end of the castle.
The present hill fort as we see it today, was started during the Iron Age around 450 – 300 BC when the area of the fort was extended and the ramparts and ditches were enlarged. Three ditches were dug, the earth removed being used to build the ramparts. A wooden fence would have been built along the ramparts with wooden gates at the entrances. The entrances were not aligned therefore making it more difficult for opposing forces to gain entry.
©Ray Beer. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0
At the time of the Roman invasion in 43 AD, Maiden Castle was inhabited by the Durotriges tribe. The battle to take the castle was a bloody one: the Romans under Vespasian finally victorious. Recent excavations have uncovered the bodies of 38 Iron Age warriors, buried with food and drink for their journey into the after life.
A Roman temple was built at Maiden Castle in the 4th century, the foundations of which can still be seen today. The fort was abandoned shortly after this time, although it may have been occupied during early Saxon times. It has certainly been deserted for the last 1400 years or so.
Maiden Castle is maintained by English Heritage and is open all year. At the site there is a large car park with information boards regarding the history of this extraordinary monument. As you climb the hill, the sheer size of the place and the huge effort it must have taken to build it, cannot fail to impress!
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Maiden Castle is located off the A354, 2 miles south of Dorchester in Dorset, please try our UK Travel Guide for further detailed information.