This town made famous by its beautiful white cliffs is located on the Strait of Dover at England's closest point to continental Europe (21 miles away). This position, combined with an excellent harbour, has helped to make it Britain's busiest ferry port, shipping cargo and passengers on international, particularly cross-Channel, routes. The British end of the Channel Tunnel (opened 1994) is at nearby Folkestone. Steeped in history, Dover's white cliffs and its medieval castle have guarded England from Roman to modern times. Discover the castle's dramatic history and visit the secret wartime tunnels. It was here that Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Admiral Ramsay masterminded Operations Dynamo, the evacuation of 338,000 troops from the horrors of Dunkirk in 1940.
Dover is also within easy reach of Canterbury and London. Canterbury Cathedral houses a Romanesque Crypt, 12th century Quire and some of the oldest and most beautiful stained glass windows in the country. The Cathedral along with the tranquil ruins of St Augustine's Abbey and the ancient St Martin's Church form one of Britain's prestigious World Heritage Sites. Visit magnificent Leeds Castle, described as ‘the loveliest castle in the world'. A castle that traces its history back almost 900 years, it has served as a royal residence for six of England's medieval queens and a palace of Henry VIII. Smaller is Walmer Castle with its spectacular gardens. It was here that the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, died in 1852 - his ‘Wellington' boots remain on show.
The site was first settled almost 4,000 years ago, but its growth began with the Romans and became a Saxon stronghold in the 4th century AD. The present Dover Castle, which overlooks the town from the eastern heights of the chalk cliffs, was built in the 12th and 13th centuries on the site of earlier Saxon, Roman, and Iron Age structures. Its grounds contain the nearly intact remains of the Pharos, one of two lighthouses built by the Romans, and of the church of St-Mary-in-Castro, which also pre-dates the castle. In the town is the Maison Dieu (House of God) founded in the 13th century by the English statesman Hubert de Burgh as a hospice for foreign pilgrims travelling to visit the tomb of St Thomas à Becket in Canterbury and now Dover's town hall.
After the Norman Conquest in 1066, Dover was enfranchised as one of the Cinque Ports (a quasi-independent group of five English Channel ports supplying naval defence). During the Napoleonic Wars, cavernous brick shelters were built in the cliffs for troops stationed in the town to defend the coast against French invasion. During World War I, Dover harbour was the base for the flotilla known as the Dover Patrol, which was responsible for keeping the Straits of Dover open to shipping. During World War II, Dover was subjected to heavy German bombing and shelling, and was extensively damaged. As a result, many of the buildings on the seafront date from the early post-war period.
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