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Caerphilly Castle, Wales
Caerphilly Castle is an immense thirteenth century castle in the small town of Caerphilly in south Wales. It was originally built by Gilbert de Clare, one of the barons who caused so many headaches for Henry III. The castle's original aim was to prevent the Welsh leader Llywelyn from establishing his influence in south Wales. Work started in 1268, and the result was the second largest castle in Britain, behind Windsor. Once the threat posed by Llywelyn receded, Caerphilly Castle became in many ways an enormous white elephant. But even though the castle had no real military role to play, its massive symbolism continued to be important. During the reign of Edward II the corrupt noble Hugh Despenser poured money into Caerphilly Castle as a demonstration of his wealth and power. The castle's Great Hall is the best place now to see Despenser's influence. When fortune turned against Edward II and his friends, it was to Caerphilly Castle that the dwindling royal party fled in late 1326. But inspite of the huge fortifications, Edward realised that even in this vast castle with its elaborate concentric defences of moats and walls, he would not be safe. In fact the castle would only be somewhere to be marooned and trapped. Edward and Hugh Despenser left Caerphilly and were eventually captured on the run in south Wales.
Following the deposition of Edward II Caerphilly Castle fell slowly into ruin, and its lakes formed by the damming of rivers were emptied. It wasn't until the nineteenth century that Caerphilly Castle once again found a role to play. The castle was one of three restored by the massively wealthy third Marquis of Bute. The Industrial Revolution influenced Wales deeply. The census of 1851 revealed that the principality was the first place in the world to have more of its population employed in industry than working on the land. While industrialisation overall made people more wealthy, there was a romantic reaction against nineteenth century urban living and rationality. Villages and childhood were idealised, gardens were created as perfect patches of nature; and the third Marquis of Bute, whose family had made their money in the new industries, devoted a fortune to restoring romantic castles. Cardiff Castle, Castell Coch, and Caerphilly Castle all soaked up vast sums in their restoration and rebuilding. The third Marquis was a deeply religious man, as can be seen in the decoration of Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch, and his castles were in the last analysis religious symbols. They seemingly recalled a more romantic time before the age of rationality. Castles and churches share architectural characteristics. The battlements and crossed arrow slits of Caerphilly Castle are all typical parts of traditional church decoration. The features of a building designed to give physical security are mimicked in buildings designed to give spiritual security. You could say that the third Marquis of Bute spent his fortune in trying to find security in the past.
In the inner ward there is a display which describes the history of the site. This contains a lot of information on the third Marquis of Bute and his restoration work.
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Directions: Come off the M4 at junction 28, and then follow the A468 for about ten miles. At the roundabout take the B4600 into Caerphilly. The castle dominates the town and you can't miss it. There is a car park near the entrance.
Address: Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly, Wales CF83 1JD
Access: The site itself is fairly level. The exhibitions housed in the towers can only be reached by spiral stairs. A Radar key toilet is provided at the Inner Ward. See the website for a document relating to visiting details for disabled visitors, or ring the number below.
telephone: 01443 336000