A Roman courtyard has been unearthed at the site of a World War II bunker on the island of Alderney, which is itself built inside the remains of a Roman tower.
The discovery was made by archaeologists from Dig Alderney during excavations earlier this year.
Alderney’s nunnery is considered to be one of the best-preserved Roman forts in the British Isles. Built in the 4th century AD and occupied for hundreds of years, it contains overlapping remains of structures dating from the medieval, Tudor, and Napoleonic periods – as well as World War II.
The nunnery is situated in an ideal position to defend Longis Bay, the island’s only natural harbour. Nazi German forces took advantage of this during their occupation of the Channel Islands, the only part of the British Isles to come under Nazi rule, between 1940 and 1945.
Although most islanders had been evacuated by the time of the occupation, German troops established two labour camps and two small concentration camps on the islands, housing almost 6,000 prisoners of war.
These prisoners were put to work constructing sections of the ‘Atlantic Wall’, an extensive system of defences along the European coastline, many remains of which still exist today.
Dr Jason Monaghan, who helped to excavate the site with Dig Alderney last August, said the discovery of the courtyard was made after years of searching.
It consisted of a ‘double layer of flagstones embedded in clay and in one place also capped by mortar,’ Monaghan said. The remains of a further building on top of the courtyard, believed to have formed part of the Governor of Alderney’s house in Tudor times, were also found.
The site has been remodelled, refurbished, and built upon several times throughout its history, most recently by the Germans in the 1940s. ‘[They] inserted their Type 501 bunker neatly into the tower ruins, using the north and south internal walls effectively as shuttering to pour their concrete,’ Monaghan explained.
‘Unfortunately, they dug out the entire interior of the tower to do this, destroying any evidence for internal structures or floors.’
Part of the foundations of the large tower, which formed the centre of the nunnery, will be left on display to show its size, while work has already begun to transform the entire site into a visitor attraction.
Dig Alderney have also said they intend to return to the nunnery next spring to learn more about the medieval and Tudor aspects of its history.