Dumbarton Castle has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland. It overlooks the Scottish town of Dumbarton and guards the point where the River Leven joins the River Clyde. Its recorded history reaches back 1,500 years. At that time the place was known as Alt Clut, ‘Rock of the Clyde’. Later it became known by the Gaelic name Dun Breatann, ‘Fortress of the Britons’, from which the name Dumbarton is derived.

From the 5th century AD until 1018, Dumbarton Rock was the capital of the British kingdom of Strathclyde. Legend tells of Merlin the magician staying at King Riderch’s court there in the 6th century. The Rock was besieged several times, but the Viking assault in 870 was by far the worst. After a four-month siege, Kings Olaf and Ivar of Dublin carried off the slaves and looted treasure in 200 longships.

In the Middle Ages, Dumbarton Rock became an important royal castle. The medieval castle was built by Alexander II of Scotland around 1220 as a bulwark against the threat from Norway, whose kings ruled the Hebrides and the islands in the Clyde. When it was first built, the Norwegian frontier lay just 16km downriver, and Dumbarton served as a Border stronghold. The Battle of Largs in 1263 effectively removed the threat from Norway, but it was soon replaced by an even greater menace from England.

In 1305, during the Wars of Independence with England, William Wallace may have been held prisoner here for a short time, before being taken to London for execution. The Wallace Tower is thought to be named in his honour.

The castle’s geographical position, distanced from the political heartland of the country, reduced its importance somewhat, but it also made it a good postern, or back gate, through which her rulers could come and go with comparative ease. David II (in 1333–4) and Mary Queen of Scots (in 1548) both sheltered here until ships could take them to France and safety.

When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 to begin her personal reign, she landed at Leith, near Edinburgh on the east coast. Dumbarton’s long and distinguished role as ‘gateway’ was over. However, its role as a garrison fortress continued. Substantial new artillery fortifications were built in the 17th and early 18th centuries. These are what the visitor sees today, for nothing survives from the Dark-Age fortress, and precious little from the medieval castle.

In later centuries, the rock became a formidable garrison fortress, its defences bristling with guns. It last saw military action as recently as the Second World War.

References:

Comments

Your name



User Reviews

P D (2 years ago)
Great for a couple of hours. Lots of stairs to walk up and down. Not many facts about the place, worth the price if in the area.
Claire Glenister (2 years ago)
Good exercise to climb/walk up to the top. Uses as many calories as a park run.
Vassilis Manoussos (2 years ago)
A beautiful spot, at the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. A historic castle overseeing the river Clyde. Its canons used to control the entrance and exit of any ship or boat. Worth visiting, with great walks around the walls and a steep climb to the top ... but it is worth the effort. The view is one of a kind. Worth having a Historic Scotland card to visit more sites for a small annual fee
Eaggle L (3 years ago)
A place full of beauty and history. It's definitely worth visiting. It was populated from very ancient times. Moreover, from its ramparts you get too see amazing views of the river and the surrounding areas.
Carol Lennie (3 years ago)
Views looking down Clyde worth the trip. Real star is castle and history stretching so far back. Fascinating
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba

The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba and the Mezquita is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.

According to a traditional account, a small Visigoth church, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins, originally stood on the site. In 784 Abd al-Rahman I ordered construction of the Great Mosque, which was considerably expanded by later Muslim rulers. The mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd al-Rahman II ordered a new minaret, while in 961 Al-Hakam II enlarged the building and enriched the Mihrab. The last of such reforms was carried out by Almanzor in 987. It was connected to the Caliph"s palace by a raised walkway, mosques within the palaces being the tradition for previous Islamic rulers – as well as Christian Kings who built their palaces adjacent to churches. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and courtyard.

In 1236, Córdoba was conquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile, and the centre of the mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features, such as King Henry II rebuilding the chapel in the 14th century. The minaret of the mosque was also converted to the bell tower of the cathedral. It was adorned with Santiago de Compostela"s captured cathedral bells. Following a windstorm in 1589, the former minaret was further reinforced by encasing it within a new structure.

The most significant alteration was the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the middle of the expansive structure. The insertion was constructed by permission of Charles V, king of Castile and Aragon. Artisans and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century.

Architecture

The building"s floor plan is seen to be parallel to some of the earliest mosques built from the very beginning of Islam. It had a rectangular prayer hall with aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla, the direction towards which Muslims pray. The prayer hall was large and flat, with timber ceilings held up by arches of horseshoe-like appearance.

In planning the mosque, the architects incorporated a number of Roman columns with choice capitals. Some of the columns were already in the Gothic structure; others were sent from various regions of Iberia as presents from the governors of provinces. Ivory, jasper, porphyry, gold, silver, copper, and brass were used in the decorations. Marvellous mosaics and azulejos were designed. Later, the immense temple embodied all the styles of Morisco architecture into one composition.

The building is most notable for its arcaded hypostyle hall, with 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, granite and porphyry. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple that had occupied the site previously, as well as other Roman buildings, such as the Mérida amphitheatre. The double arches were an innovation, permitting higher ceilings than would otherwise be possible with relatively low columns. The double arches consist of a lower horseshoe arch and an upper semi-circular arch.