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January 3, 2019

Cardiff

by Rosemary West


Our hotel was right across the street from Cardiff castle. This was once the site of a Roman fort. In the 11th century, the Normans built a mound and topped it with a wooden stockade. Later rulers built a stone keep and surrounded the grounds with a wall. Over the centuries, there were battles, treachery, strategic marriages, murders, and all kinds of political twists. Buildings were added, remodeled, removed, replaced, and updated. Eventually, the lordship of the castle was held by the Bute family, who brought prosperity to Cardiff, primarily through the export of coal. In 1947, the 5th Marquess of Bute gave the castle to the people of Cardiff.

In the 1860s, John Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time, hired architect William Burges to rebuild the castle and fill it with sumptuously decorated rooms. After Burges's death in 1881, the work was completed by other architects, most notably his pupil, William Frame.


The Gothic Revival clock tower, built in the 1860s, contains a suite of luxury rooms.


A big Welsh dragon with the royal apartments in the background.

Stained glass contributes to the Gothic Revival look.


The vaulted ceiling of the Arab room is so high that two upper floors were removed to make room for it. It is covered with pure gold leaf.


Many rooms have elaborate fireplaces.


During World War II, the passages inside the castle wall were used as bomb shelters. Posters from the period are on display there.


One of the most popular features of the castle is the Animal Wall. Along a section of the wall surrounding the castle grounds are perched carvings of 15 animals.


The 3rd Marquess is honored throughout the city for his philanthropy and architectural patronage.


We walked over to Alexandria Gardens, a lovely, green park, home to a number of war memorials. The biggest and most impressive is the Welsh National War Memorial, built in 1928 to honor servicemen who died during the First World War. A plaque for WWII was added in 1949.


This beautiful angel stands atop a monument to the Welshmen who fell in South Africa 1899-1902.


The Welsh dragon appears all over the city. This particularly fierce version sits atop City Hall.


One day we took a water taxi to Cardiff Bay.

The Pierhead building was designed in 1897 by Wiliam Frame as the headquarters for the Bute Dock Company. It now contains a Cardiff history museum.


Next to the waterfront walkway is a 10-meter-long sculpture of the Enormous Crocodile from the book by Welsh author Roald Dahl. Dahl is best known as a children's author, but I have trouble thinking of him that way, having first encountered him through his stories for adults.


In the 1800s, Cardiff was the main port for exporting Welsh coal. This history and importance of coal is described in an exhibit next to the walkway. Coal has gradually dwindled in Wales, and there are only a few mines left. Cardiff is now the main center of business and finance in Wales, and, as the capital, is also the seat of government.


One of the museums we visited was St. Fagans National Museum of History. This is a huge, open air exhibit, reminiscent of Skansen in Stockholm. There are over 40 buildings, representing the architecture and lifestyles of many centuries of Welsh history, collected from their original locations and rebuilt here. (A few of the older examples are reconstructions based on archaeological finds.) The museum is on the woodsy grounds of a castle that was donated by the Earl of Plymouth in 1946.


Moss grows on a thatched roof.


The interior of an Iron Age roundhouse is complete with a cooking/heating fire. It was a cold day, and we appreciated the chance to get warm.


This stone house is from the late 18th century.


Inside the castle, which was built in the 1500s, we got a glimpse of the ways its owners lived in the 19th century.


We were here at the end of October. It was bitterly cold, but the roses were still blooming.



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