For centuries, Carlisle was the center of border conflicts between England and Scotland. Even in Antiquity, it marked the border of the Roman empire and the Celtic realms.
In the 2nd century, attacks and encroachments by the Celtic tribes increased so much that a fortified frontier wall was built from sea to sea within ten years. Named after the emperor of the time, Hadrian’s Wall begins at Bowness on the Solway Firth and stretches 73 miles (117 km) across to Newcastleupon-Tyne, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. It consisted of two walls of stone with a fill of earth and mortar, making it wide enough for a legionary to use as a rampart. Ditches on either side made it more difficult for barbarians to attack.
Nineteen castles were located along the wall, each garrisoned by a thousand soldiers. A total of 10,000 men were stationed at the wall, and a military road was built parallel to it to allow them to move quickly to the scene of the action. But despite all these efforts the constant pressure of the northern tribes could not be withstood forever. In the 4th century the Romans were forced to abandon the wall, and the locals soon started using it as a quarry for building materials for houses and churches.
Carlisle, originally known as Luguvalium, retained its strategic importance here even after Roman times. Its position at the mouth of the river Eden in the Solway Firth favored trade and brought the city prosperity. In the Dark Ages the Scots tried again and again to take the city; in reaction, the Norman king William II had the locality so strongly fortified that Carlisle was not taken until the 17th century.
During the Civil War the city was captured and plundered by a Scottish army under General Leslie after a bitter nine-month siege. Precisely one hundred years later the Scots were at the gates once more, this time lead by Bonnie Prince Charlie, who took the castle without firing a shot. At the market cross he declared his father king of Great Britain. After the defeat and massacre of the Scots during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the Duke of Cumberland recaptured the city. Culloden was the last attempt of the Scots to achieve their independence from England.
The Market Cross is a good point to start your tour of Carlisle; it stands on the erstwhile site of the Roman forum. Around the market square are some of the most attractive historical buildings in the city, such as the Guildhall or the Tullie House, which houses a museum and art gallery. Exhibits include prehistoric and Roman finds as well as around two thousand works of art from the last 300 years, including paintings by Peter Blake.
The city cathedral is one of the most attractive churches in the North of England. The eventful history of the city is reflected in the cathedral as well. Building started at the beginning of the 12th century. Originally a small abbey, the building grew as the city grew in importance, becoming Carlisle’s principal church, continually added to and modified as architectural styles changed through the ages and as the population increased. The cathedral stands on Norman foundations, and both the exterior and interior are predominantly Gothic in style. Its most impressive features include the great east window in Decorated Style, depicting the Last Judgment; the sculptured decorations of the columns; and the painted ceiling vaulting.
In the northwest of Carlisle is the city’s castle, built in the 11th century by William Rufus and continually extended and strengthened to withstand the Scots. In 1568 Mary Stuart, Scots rival of Elizabeth I, was imprisoned for two months in its tower, called Queen Mary’s Tower.