Old Sarum probably won’t be the first place visitors will come to see on their first visit to Salisbury, but it should be the first place to know about, because without Old Sarum there would be no Salisbury.
On a hilltop overlooking the valley where present day Salisbury lies are the remains of Sarum, or Old Sarum as it is now called.
This previous Iron Age hill fort, just a couple of miles north of the city centre, passed through the hands of the Romans, Saxons, and Vikings, before finally falling to William the Conqueror.
William built a Motte and Bailey castle inside the existing fort, probably around 1069-70, and the importance of the site was strengthened even more by the construction of a cathedral which was consecrated on 5th April 1092.
As was often the case during medieval times, the powers that be and the clergy didn’t always meet eye to eye and the decision was made to relocate the cathedral down to the valley below where it still stands.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out why the new town was called New Sarum, but the land on which it was built was the estate of Veretes Sarisberias, or ’Old Salisburies’.
New Sarum (or New Salisbury) received its city charter in 1227 by Henry III and eventually the ‘New’ bit was dropped and the city became known just as Salisbury.
I’ve only ever known it called Salisbury, but I was surprised to learn that its previous name of New Sarum was still the city’s official title right up until 2009.
Old Sarum is looked after by English Heritage these days, and there are several buses that run from the city centre if you don’t have your own transport.
The site is open throughout the year and entrance fees are pretty reasonable, but bear in mind that both the castle and old cathedral are just ruins.
For all the latest information check out the English Heritage website http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/old-sarum/