Time Resting on the River Seiont banks in northwestern Wales, Caernarfon Castle more than earns its reputation as a crowning achievement of Middle Ages architecture.
Taking its name from the once-sleepy fishing hamlet of Caernarfon, Gwynedd, the castle now stands as a grounding structure in the World Heritage Site, which also includes Beaumaris, Harlech and Conwy Castles, all built as King Edward 1’s “iron ring” of castles.
After bitter battles with the Welsh royal princes, King Edward I, known as ‘Longshanks’, staked his claim as the victor of the territory after defeating Llywelyn ap Gruffud, the final Welsh-born Prince of Wales.
As a symbol of the new reign, King Edward 1 brought the glorious Caernarfon Castle to life. Though the project began in the summer of 1283, it took 47 years for full completion.
But that didn’t stop the King from bringing his Queen Eleanor to live amidst the growing grandness as early as 1283.
Staying first in a rustic apartment and then returning the next year to more suitable accommodations, the royal couple became a family when the birth of their first child, Edward of Caernarfon, launched what became an enduring royal dynasty.
Caernarfon Castle Construction
Master James of St. George, a renowned military architect favoured by King Edward 1, deep-dived into the decades-long castle project, culminating in a massive multi-coloured stone fortress with nine strategic polygonal towers, decorative stone eagles, and the imposing curtain walls and King’s Gate to monitor entry by would-be invaders.
A time-worn statue of King Edward 1 glares from above the outside King’s Door, which harbours numerous “murder holes” for dispensing boiling oil and scathing hot water upon unsuspecting intruders. The building project also established walls around the entire town as well as a quay for incoming ships.
The Royal Family Moves In
The Royal Family and its eventual heirs took up residence inside the thick walls of Eagle Tower, whose three picturesque turrets still crown the complex today.
For more than 700 years, the eldest son of the British king has taken the title of Prince of Wales, with the castle earning its ongoing birthright as the royal heritage site.
Current Use & Owners
Though the current title holders no longer live in the castle, royal investitures on the grounds still occur.
Edward Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VIII, received the title at Caernarfon Castle in 1911, followed by Prince Charles in 1969 (see photo), who is next in line to the British throne.
The castle now thrives in care of the Welsh government’s historical arm known as Cadw, a word meaning to “keep and protect.” It oversees 44 of the 427 castles in Wales.
Visitors enter the original curtain walls through either the King’s Gate or Queen’s Gate of Caernarfon Castle, and can explore the fascinating Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum, chockful of ancient uniforms, guns and weapons of destruction.
The Eagle Tower tosses unsuspecting tourists into an interactive history experience, while Chamberlain Tower cradles the investiture throne and royal accoutrements.
Admission prices and opening times vary throughout the year, and can be found here.
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