Resting two miles up the River Taff from the Severn estuary, the majestic sight of Cardiff Castle gives little hint of its stirring history. The Romans were the first to occupy the site, they erected a fort and this was subsequently rebuilt in the 1st century AD. Two hundred years later a third, more robust fort was built and some of this construction can still be seen in the castle walls today.
After the Romans left Britain nothing was heard of the site until the Normans arrived. They seized upon the advantages of the site with its easy access to the Bristol Channel and the wider seas beyond. A forty foot mound was built surrounded by a ditch in the north-west corner, with the rest divided into an inner and outer bailey. They broadened and deepened the silted up ditch around the fort and covered the remains of the Roman walls, thus the ancient remains were to lie hidden for almost eight centuries.
The twelve sided shell keep we now see is from the 12th century, its walls rise to a height of thirty feet with an entrance on the south side. The octagonal tower in front of the entrance was probably an addition from the 15th century. So despite many people thinking the castle to be purely a construction of more recent times, attributing it to the 3rd Marquis of Bute, this is not so. The castle has a deeper, more legendry history, but was greatly transformed by the Marquis in 1867 under the guidance of architect William Burgess.
The Marquis was a shy young man of twenty when the work began. He was extremely wealthy, and Burgess, being an experienced architect and man of the world was the perfect choice for carrying out the young Marquis's grand plans for the restoration to the living quarters of the castle. Today, the interior of Cardiff castle is a superb extravaganza of a rich mixture of styles, these transcend from the richly ornate of what was intended to be a Tudor or medieval great hall, to the colourful Gothic chapel, dedicated to the memory of the Marquis' father.
When Burgess died in 1881 work was still on-going, but he left behind a legacy of far ranging ideas implemented by the superb skills of Victorian craftsman, in such style that could only be achieved by great wealth and power. The grandeur of Lord Bute's masterpiece never ceases to amaze. At every turn the eye is immediately drawn, be it to the detail of the roof decorations of the banqueting hall, the stalactite ceiling of the Arab room, the splendour of the Chaucer room located in the medieval Octagon or Beauchamp tower. There are magnificent murals influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, ogee mouldings with leafy finials and stained glass windows depicting the owners of the castle down the centuries. Visitors will also note flamboyant fountains set amid rich greenery and splendid marble fireplaces in many of the rooms, often giving an Italian, Mediterranean, even Arabian flavour to some.
As you tour, one fantastically decorated room, follows the other, particularly in the clock tower at the south-west angle of the curtain, where once a Roman bastion stood. Here Burgess built up rather than outwards, the lavish rooms rise one above the other, connected by a newel staircase and all in the elegant, comfortable style, of the home of a country gentleman.
Other highlights of the castle are the Guest and Bute towers by Burgess, and the Herbert tower of Tudor origin. It is these numerous towers that give Cardiff castle its amazing historic skyline where medieval remains unite some of Burgess and Bute's extraordinary interpretations of 19th century Gothic.
It was following Burgess death in 1881 when work continued under his assistant William Frame that sections of the 3rd century Roman walling was discovered under the Norman curtain. In the 20th century came the further discovery of the existence of the earlier Roman forts, thus confirming the long, illustrious history of Cardiff's greatest treasure.
Cardiff Castle is one of Wales leading tourist attractions, not only will you be fascinated by its historic, ornate interior, but you will marvel at the walls that have withstood almost two thousand years of fluctuating history as the castle passed from one owner to the other, until it rests peacefully as we see it today.
The grounds of the castle make the ideal place for reflecting on all that you have seen within. Here, peacocks, geese and ducks wander freely, just as deer would have roamed centuries ago. There is a delightful tea-room for a quiet break, this provides excellent light lunches, afternoon teas or coffee. Following this why not pop into the gift shop located at the main castle entrance where you can purchase a souvenir to remind you of a wonderful day out.
Cardiff Castle lies at the very heart of Cardiff city centre, it is surrounded by magnificent Bute Park and is easily accessed from the capital's busy shopping area. It is a "must see" for anyone visiting this part of South Wales.
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