The new look Nunnery is destined to be the island’s premier tourist attraction.
The Nunnery, home to the best preserved Roman fortlet in Britain, boasts 1,700 years of continuous occupation.
It re-opened on Saturday after six months of work and around 160 visitors filed through the gates to a welcome by Roman soldiers.
For first time visitors and those who had been before, the changes were impressive.
In latter years the Nunnery was a private residence and over time shrubs and brambles crept up to obscure some of its unique facets.
The building recently reverted back to States ownership and Visit Alderney and the States Works, helped by the Alderney Society, Festung Guernsey and former Guernsey Museums Director Dr Jason Monaghan, set about opening it up again. They cleared shrubbery, moved sand and painted and lit interiors of bunkers, grassed the central courtyard and created an extensive information network.
Blending Roman walkways, WW11 defence positions and buildings from the French Revolutionary wars period, the Nunnery Heritage Site is now the most accessible and best interpreted historical destination on the Island.
Visitors can climb up to a Roman walkway along the walls, following in the footsteps of Roman soldiers nearly 2,000 years ago, peer down an escape hatch, learn the intricacies of bunker defence systems and inspect artefacts that are more than 1,000 years old.
Helene Turner, Director of Tourism, said:
‘This all came about a year ago when States of Alderney decided to make the site public again.
‘The amount of history here is quite amazing and we needed to make the most of it and improve it as a visitor attraction.
‘Some major groundwork had to take place first. We had to strip out a lot of shrubbery and bushes and run electricity cables into the bunkers to highlight what is here.
‘We hope it will be an excellent visitor attraction and something that residents will enjoy too.’
The most striking new feature at the Nunnery is an information room inside the WW2 Crew Room bunker. This contains a timeline stretching round the walls detailing occupation and activity at the site throughout the ages. There are also panels about about archeological work that has taken place in and around the Nunnery and a cabinet displaying some of artifacts from significant periods of its history. In the centre of the room is a model of what the Roman fort may have looked like.
The WW2 fortifications at the Nunnery are now the most accessible and most extensively interpreted on the island.
The ‘501 type Group Shelter’ bunker was cleared of sand, painted white and lit. Work revealed an escape hatch, which once cleared of brambles was shown to be complete with iron ladder, extending into the open air. The exit has been enclosed in a perspex dome.
The Type 501 Group Shelter was normally used to house up to 12 soldiers in case of attack and contained beds, a table and chairs. There is also a connecting observation position and anti aircraft machine gun position with scenic views of the bay.
This simple rectangular room – decorated with an original WW2 wardrobe from another bunker – has an escape shaft knocked through the 2m thick walls to allow escape if the entrance became blocked , has an elaborate entrance that allows the bunker to be defended against attackers and chemical weapons. Next to the entrance are the remains of an original sign advising how the ventilation system should be worked in case of gas attack.
Some research suggests that this shelter may have been used as a telephone exchange to connect to the French coast with with a submarine telephone cable.
Buildings from the 1790s have also been cleaned up and made accessible, including a gunpowder magazine with a striking brick ceiling.
Saturday’s saw Roman soldiers greeting visitors and tea and biscuits served to the 200 or so who made their way there for the opening.
Irene Harvey, from Guernsey, said:
‘It’s an amazing place. It’s got this whole mix of history, from the Romans to the Second world War. It’s incredibly well preserved and presented.’
Resident Nick Winder said he had been impressed by the improvements.
‘It’s beautifully cleaned up and you can actually see much more detail than you could when I was last year. The interpretation is very helpful. I think this is a real asset to the island.’
The Nunnery Heritage Site is open every day from 10am-4.30pm.