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Castle ruins in Wales

You will find plenty to discover in Wales, with thousands of years of history and heritage to explore.

Below is the briefest run through of the history of Wales with links to just a small number of attractions near to Cardiff you can visit while you are studying here.

You can discover the history of the people of Wales throughout all these times at St Fagans museum just outside Cardiff and more history (including geological) at the National Museum next to the University campus.

The red dragon you see on the flag has been associated with Wales for centuries but wasn't made the official Welsh flag until 1959. The flag itself dates from Tudor times, but the origin of the dragon is shrouded in mystery. It is possible it was introduced to Wales by the Romans and may have found popularity through the myths of King Arthur.

Prehistoric Wales

By the time the Romans arrived in Britain, people had lived in Wales for around 225,000 years.

Easily reached from Cardiff, the Gower Peninsula in South Wales is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty and is home to age-old burial chambers.

The 95 caves were once shelters to pre-historic man including The Red Lady of Paviland. 'She' was found in Goat's Hole Cave and has most recently been dated to 33,000 BC. The skeleton is believed to be the oldest ceremonial burial yet discovered in Europe.

Roman invasion of Wales

The Romans began their military campaign against Wales in 43 AD with 40,000 troops and by 60 AD, Wales had come under Roman control.

The most famous Roman site in Wales is at Caerleon just outside Cardiff. Known to the Romans as Isca it is the site of one of only three permanent forts in the UK.

In addition to barracks and an amphitheatre, recently Cardiff University archaeological teams have unearthed remains of monumental buildings. A visit to the museum and remains is highly recommended.

Watch a video on Vimeo about the monumental discovery at Caerleon.

Norman conquest and castles

The Norman military leaders systematically divided and ruled Wales by killing Bleddyn ap Cynfyn in 1075 and Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth in 1093 and subsequently taking over their lands. William the Conqueror advanced into the south and effectively completed the Norman conquest of Wales.

The Normans brought with them castle architecture and over the centuries the castles of Wales collectively have become Britain's most visited tourist attraction. Great castles close to Cardiff include Chepstow (one of the oldest in the UK) and Caerphilly (the second largest in the UK). You can also see Norman remains in Cardiff Castle's famous keep. You can discover more castles on the CADW website.

By the time of the Tudors many castles were evolving from defensive fortifications to palatial country mansions. Two good examples near Cardiff are Raglan and Langharne (which is also famous for Dylan Thomas).

Watch a YouTube video about the Gilbert De Clare's magnificent concentric castle in Wales.

Owain Glyndŵr

A popular figure in the national consciousness and a symbol of Welsh pride, Owain Glyndŵr (died 1416) led a long-running (though ultimately unsuccessful) revolt against English rule from 1400-1415.

Aided by the French, he captured castles and won notable battles. He was the last Welshman to be crowned Prince of Wales.

The 19th century (and early 20th)

In the 19th century South Wales became famous for the mining of coal. At the time, Cardiff expanded to be the third largest port in the world and the first ever million pound cheque was signed in Cardiff Coal Exchange in 1909. Attracting immigrants from all over the world, the population of Wales was growing by 20%.

By the 1980s coal mining in Wales was all but ended. You can explore Wales' mining past (and take an underground tour) at Big Pit Museum near Cardiff.

The statue of Minerva on the University's Glamorgan Building is also a symbol of the importance of coal mining to the region.

And although it may appear old, Castell Coch (Red Castle) is relatively modern, the product of a wealthy, Victorian marquess.

Recent history

The Welsh economy, like that of other developed societies, has become increasingly based on the expanding service sector.

Following devolution in 1998, some powers were handed over from Westminster to Cardiff. The Welsh Assembly was set up in 1999 and is based in the Senedd building in Cardiff Bay.