Broch of Mousa in Shetland

Mousa Broch

Broch of Mousa is a preserved Iron Age broch or round tower. It is on the island of Mousa in Shetland, Scotland. It is the tallest broch still standing and amongst the best-preserved prehistoric buildings in Europe. It is thought to have been constructed c. 100 BC, one of more than 500 brochs built in Scotland

Stand in the shadow of the best-preserved broch in Scotland, then climb the winding staircase to the top.

Brochs are a kind of Iron Age roundhouse found only in Scotland, and Mousa is the best-preserved of them all. Thought to have been constructed in about 300 BC, it stands 13m tall, a totem of Scottish prehistory.
It appears twice in Norse sagas. One recounts how an eloping couple took refuge here after a shipwreck en route to Iceland in AD 900, while another describes the broch as ‘an unhandy place to get at’ for an attack.

A towering titan
Mousa is unlike other broch towers – it has the smallest diameter of any, but its walls are far thicker than in others. Its massive build probably explains its excellent state of preservation, and suggests that this has always been an exceptionally tall broch.

There is no information whether Mousa was the apogee of broch building, or if there were other broch towers of this height and strength that, for whatever reason, did not survive.

In the sagas
Mousa Broch is mentioned in two historical documents.

Egil’s Saga relates how, in AD 900, an eloping couple from Norway found themselves shipwrecked in Shetland, and sought refuge in ‘Morseyarborg’.

The Orkneyinga Saga recounts how, in AD 1153, a certain Erlend abducted Margaret, the mother of Earl Harold and took her to Morseyarborg ‘where everything had been made ready’. Earl Harold besieged the broch but found it ‘an unhandy place to get at’ for attack.

The Orkneyinga Saga mentions several of our properties in the Orkney and Shetland Islands, including:

Cubbie Roo’s Castle
Earl’s Bu
Eynhallow Chapel
Uniquely Scottish

Brochs are unique to Scotland. They consist of drystone roundhouses or towers formed of two concentric walls, with a narrow passage and small cells. A stone stair corkscrews between the inner and outer walls to the top.

There are about 500 surviving examples, found mostly in northern and western Scotland and the islands. Of these, about five stand close to their original height, Mousa being the tallest among them.

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