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It is the birthplace of Thomas Hardy, who used the county as the principal setting of his novels, and William Barnes, whose poetry celebrates the ancient Dorset dialect.
The Saxons named the town Dornwaraceaster (the suffix "ceaster" being the Old English name for a Roman town) and Dornsæte came into use as the name for the inhabitants of the area from "Dorn"—a reduced form of Dornwaraceaster—and the Old English word "sæte" meaning people.
After the reorganisation of local government in 1974 the county's border was extended eastward to incorporate the Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch.
Around half of the population lives in the South East Dorset conurbation, while the rest of the county is largely rural with a low population density.
First popularised as a tourist destination by George III's frequent visits to Weymouth, the county's coastline, seaside resorts and its sparsely populated rural areas attract millions of visitors each year.
The Romans arrived in Dorset during their conquest of Britain in AD 43.
Maiden Castle was captured by a Roman legion under the command of Vespasian, and the Roman settlement of Durnovaria was established nearby.
Three-quarters of its coastline is part of the Jurassic Coast Natural World Heritage Site due to its geological and palaeontologic significance.
It features notable landforms such as Lulworth Cove, the Isle of Portland, Chesil Beach and Durdle Door.