Camelot - the legendary Arthurian Castle
Camelot was the stronghold of the legendary
king Arthur, an important figure in the mythology of old
England and English literary tradition.
Much of what we know about Camelot is
fictionalized, though some "facts" are repeated in various
sources. Although Arthurian legends are collectively known as
the Matter of Britain, an emperor named Arthur first appears in
early Welsh texts.
King Arthur was a Dark Age ruler who united
his people, drove invaders from his land, and created an empire
of peace. The utopia of his creation, called Camelot, is etched
in imagination forever.
Camelot was a shining city
on a hill, where equality and justice towered over all. There,
ever-ready knights with tough armor and gentle hearts vowed to
uphold a code of chivalry. Known as the Knights of the Round
Table, they had equal say in matters of state and promised
loyalty and charity on behalf of their sovereign.
This was a fifth-century realm of mystery, magic, and beauty. The wizard Merlin
haunted the halls and granted Arthur powers of magic. Within Camelot's chambers, ladies-in-waiting
attended the beautiful and daring queen, Guinevere. Among the gardens and grounds, minstrels and
poets made merry and music. Lords and ladies worshiped the Holy Grail, fell in love, and kept the
dream of Camelot alive.
Or so the story goes. Hundreds of tales have been written about Camelot and its
king--all part of a huge cycle of literature known as Arthurian lore. Books and movies about Arthur
and Camelot, such as last July's film King Arthur, fall into the realm of legend. Like tales of
Robin Hood or the mountain utopia Shangri-La, legends are fiction spun from touchstones of
Did Camelot, the ideal kingdom, really
Historians, archaeologists, mapmakers, and language experts have long pursued a
quest for that treasured truth. Their answer, after all these years, is both yes and maybe.
Camelot - A Literary Place
There's no doubt about the literary Camelot, the storybook utopia. Its place is
fixed in the imagination through works such as T.H. White's book The Once and Future King (1958)
and the movie musical Camelot (1962). But where did the stories come from?
Lasting images of King Arthur and his court were spun in the 1860s by Alfred
Lord Tennyson in his poem Idylls of the King. But Tennyson didn't invent Camelot. He based his poem
on a 15th-century work called The Death of Arthur (Le Morte d'Arthur) by Sir Thomas Malory. And
Malory got his story from Chretien de Troyes's 12th-century work Lancelot, which contains the first
mention of Camelot: "King Arthur...held a most magnificent court at Camelot with all the splendor
appropriate to the day." Thus the literary place was born.
A Literal Place?
But was there ever an actual, literal, historical Camelot?
If so, where was that golden realm?
Some historians say Camelot was a place in Scotland called Camelon. But most
archaeologists on Arthur's trail have searched in England. At the ruins of a castle in Cornwall, a
stone was found with Artognov inscribed on it. Close to Arthur--but close enough? A large round
table was found at Winchester Cathedral. But it was made hundreds of years after the time when
Arthur supposedly lived. In Glastonbury Abbey, the bones of a man Arthur's size were found, but
nobody could prove they were his. If Camelot were a real place, wouldn't there be traces of it?
Camelot has become a metaphor for the perfect society, one we
strive to create. As writer David Day said, "In the Utopian ideal of Camelot, mankind always sees a
message of hope: What the imagination...once built, [we] can build again."