|The thumbnails below are linked to larger pictures
Its shape was largely determined by a pre-existing Iron Age hillfort, while within its walls stand a Roman lighthouse and an Anglo-Saxon church, the latter probably once forming part of an Anglo-Saxon burgh or fortified town. There has been a castle here since November 1066. That month, Duke William of Normandy's forces, fresh from victory at the Battle of Hastings, constructed the first earthwork castle before continuing their march on London. The castle was to retain a garrison until October 1958 - an 892-year span equalled only by the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.
During its medieval heyday this was very much a frontier fortress, looking across to the frequently hostile lands of the counts of Flanders and the kings of France. Under Henry II the castle was rebuilt, incorporating concentric defences and regularly spaced wall towers, a combination then without parallel in western Europe. In 1216 it successfully withstood a prolonged siege. By the 1250s its medieval defences had assumed the extent and shape which they retain to this day and the castle, on its cliff-top site, formed a highly visible symbol of English royal power.
After declining in importance from the sixteenth century, the castle was modernised and its defences extended in the 1750s and again during the Napoleonic Wars. Further alterations and additional gun batteries added in the 1870s enabled the castle to retain the role of First-Class Fortress almost until the end of the nineteenth century.
During both world wars the castle was rearmed, but perhaps its finest hour came in May 1940. In that month Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay, in naval headquarters deep in the cliff, organised and directed the successful evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk. These same tunnels became in the 1960s a Regional Seat of Government in the event of nuclear war; only in 1984 were they finally abandoned.