Visitors to Cardiff are often surprised to see a castle in the town centre. It is at the top of St. Mary St. and is easily accessible. The outer walls which you see from the city roads are the new part of the castle. The ‘modern’ castle was built by the same architect who designed Castell Coch (Red Castle) a few miles away in Tongwynlais, William Bruges. Both castles were built as homes for John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute.
When building began in 1865 the builders discovered the remains of a Roman fortress which was built during the first century AD. Cardiff, at that time, was an important hub on the road between Camarthen and Caerleon. The fortress seems to have been built three times in succession and contained stores, barracks and other buildings. You can still see the Roman remains as you near the main entrance of the castle, with the later Norman walls rising above them.
The later castle was the Norman motte and bailey which still exists within the castle walls; this is surrounded by a water-filled ditch, so visitors get a really good impression of what a Norman motte and bailey castle was like. The first Norman castle was built around 1091 by Robert Fitzhamon, Lord of Gloucester, but this consisted simply of a mound and bailey – probably wooden. This was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. The twelve-sided stone keep was erected later by an illegitimate son of Henry I who had been given the castle and land by his father, the king. In the 15th century the gatehouse and stairway were added.
The Norman castle was refortified when there were Welsh rebellions against the foreign (Norman) landowners, but in the 13th century the castle was not attacked so this part of the castle is in a surprisingly good state of repair. In the early 15th century Owain Glyndwr succeeded in uniting the Welsh chieftains and attacked the castle, and also laid Cardiff to waste by setting the town on fire.
From the outside you cannot see that the castle is in fact two; the Victorian edifice which is incredibly ornate as you can possibly tell just by looking at the Clock Tower. It is as magnificent as the interior of Castell Coch, with murals and ceiling paintings as well as marble fireplaces and so on. I used to have to sit examinations there for music and dreaded walking past the peacocks with their horrendous squawks.
There is a trebuchet (a mediaeval siege engine) ensconced at the castle, which was a prop in the film “Ironclad,” filmed entirely in Wales. Staff at the castle have been trained how to load it and occasionally you can see it in action. There are various events held at the castle every year. These include mediaeval jousts, open air theatre productions and Christmas events. There are numerous things for children to do over the summer holidays too and for the jousts they can turn up in mediaeval costumes if they wish.
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