There’s more to Cardiff Castle than first meets the eye. Behind the impressive facade and the decorative medieval-style clocktower, with its commanding position in the heart of Wales’ capital city, lies almost 2,000 years of history waiting to unfurl for visitors.
A thousand years before the castle existed, a Roman fort to oversee the rebellious Silures was built in about AD55. Two centuries later, another was built for civilian use. The castle was first built in classic Norman motte and bailey mode in 1091, and extended a few decades later. It suffered more damage from Welsh rebellions in the 12th century and Owain Glyndwr’s uprising of 1400 than from Cromwell’s army in the 17th century.
The fortress was transformed into one of Britain’s finest examples of a Gothic fantasy castle during the 19th century. Purists may feel that the flamboyant idealisation of medieval styles distracts from its true origins, but the evidence of the Norman and Angevin eras are by no means obliterated by the Marquis of Bute’s extensive works.
Once inside the grounds, the layers of history peel back from exposed Roman walls up to the World War Two shelter, with an array of elaborate and incredibly beautiful decorated rooms dating from Victorian times. The shell of the original Norman keep and motte stand proudly within the grounds. An interpretative centre takes visitors through the stages of the castle, and the Castle Apartments show off the full extent of the vision of Victorian ‘eccentric genius’ William Burges’s interiors which he created for the powerful bachelor aristocrat Marquis.
The castle also boasts the Firing Line Museum of Welsh Soldiers, the finest view of the city, its docks and across the Bristol Channel.
Cardiff Castle, Castle Street, Cardiff. Tel: 029 2087 8100; www.cardiffcastle.com