Caerphilly Castle | South Wales Medieval Stronghold

Situated in the town of Caerphilly, in South Wales, this medieval stronghold is the second largest in the UK, surpassed only by Windsor Castle.

What sets Caerphilly Castle apart is not just its size, but also its innovative use of water defenses and the distinction of being the first truly concentric castle in Britain.

Its construction in the late 13th century marked a milestone in military architecture, showcasing the brilliance and ambition of its builder, Gilbert de Clare.

A Fortress Fit For A Prince

Caerphilly Castle

The story of Caerphilly Castle begins with the rise of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the Welsh prince who posed a threat to the English crown.

Worried about the growing power of Llywelyn, Gilbert de Clare, Lord of Glamorgan, realized the need for a formidable stronghold to protect his territory and prevent the Welsh prince from gaining control of South Wales. De Clare’s vision was to create a castle that would serve as a buffer against Llywelyn’s ambitions and secure the region.

De Clare strategically selected the upland district of Senghenydd, where Caerphilly now stands, as the ideal location for his castle. This region, nestled between the valleys and mountains of South Wales, provided a natural defense against Llywelyn’s forces.

In 1266, De Clare seized control of Senghenydd from the Welsh, laying the foundation for the construction of Caerphilly Castle.

The Construction Of Caerphilly Castle

On April 11, 1268, the construction of Caerphilly Castle began. However, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was not willing to let De Clare succeed without a fight and in 1270 launched an attack on the castle, determined to stop its construction.

Despite his efforts, the castle was finished in 1271 and completed without hindrance. The message it sent to Llywelyn was clear – his southward ambitions had been thwarted.

Caerphilly Castle is unique in that it was built on a virgin site, allowing for a unified and cohesive architectural plan. The castle is a double-skinned parallelogram, surrounded by extensive water defenses.

This concentric layout gave the castle flexibility and rapid access to any part of its structure. Mural passages, wall-walks, towers, and gatehouses were strategically positioned, allowing defenders to maneuver efficiently while maintaining strong defensive positions.

The castle’s cellular structure is a testament to its strength, with numerous portcullises and defensive features designed to thwart attackers.

The outer ward, formed by a low battlemented curtain wall, is separated from the inner ward by high curtain walls, circular corner towers, and two massive gatehouses.

The Transformation Into A Palatial Home

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After the threat of Welsh independence was quelled, Caerphilly Castle underwent a transformation. It became not just a fortress, but also a palatial home fit for its noble inhabitants. The castle passed through different hands over the centuries, each leaving their mark on the structure.

In the early 14th century, Hugh le Despenser, a powerful and ambitious figure in the court of Edward II, took possession of the castle. Despenser made significant alterations to the castle, including the remodeling of the great hall and the addition of other domestic features.

The hall was transformed into a sumptuous space, with raised timber roofs, decorated ogee-shaped windows, and rich moldings.

The castle exuded opulence and grandeur, reflecting the status and taste of its occupants.

However, the castle’s active history was relatively short-lived. By 1283, Edward I had successfully subdued the Welsh, rendering the need for Caerphilly Castle obsolete.

The castle saw minor Welsh attacks in later years, but its significance as a military stronghold diminished. Over time, Caerphilly Castle fell into disrepair and was subjected to further damage during the English Civil War.

The Decline And Restoration

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In the late 16th century, during the period of the Tudor monarchy, Thomas Lewis of The Van, located near Caerphilly, was granted permission to use the castle’s stone to build his own residence. This accelerated the castle’s dilapidation, and by the 18th century, the castle’s lakes had dried up, houses were built against the foot of the dam, and the castle was in ruins.

Its restoration and revitalization began in the 19th century, thanks to the visionary efforts of the Bute family. The Marquess of Bute undertook extensive clearance and restoration work on the castle, breathing new life into its crumbling walls. Additionally, in the 1950s, the lakes surrounding the castle were reflooded, returning the castle to its former glory.

Exploring Caerphilly Castle Today

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Today, Caerphilly Castle stands as a captivating historical attraction, drawing visitors from near and far. Its imposing walls, towers, and gatehouses offer a glimpse into the past, allowing visitors to imagine the castle in its heyday.

The castle’s unique defensive features, such as hidden passageways and portcullises, provide an immersive experience, transporting visitors back to a time of knights, sieges, and epic battles.

Exploring the castle grounds, visitors can marvel at the engineering marvels of the southern and northern dams, which served as formidable obstacles for any would-be attackers.

The southern dam, an earth platform revetted in stone, and the northern dam, with its high outer wall and three great towers, showcase the medieval engineering prowess that went into constructing Caerphilly Castle.

The inner ward of the castle is particularly impressive, with its corner towers and the imposing east gatehouse. The east gatehouse, with its twin D-shaped towers, central passage, and circular stair turrets, offers panoramic views and a glimpse into the castle’s defensive strategies. The great hall and state apartments, though partially ruined, provide a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the castle’s noble residents.

Today, visitors can immerse themselves in the history of Caerphilly Castle through guided tours, exhibitions, and interactive displays. The castle also hosts various events and activities, such as jousting tournaments and medieval reenactments, bringing the castle’s rich history to life.

Nearby Attractions and Activities

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While Caerphilly Castle is undoubtedly the star attraction in the area, there are plenty of other fascinating sites and activities to explore in and around Caerphilly.

The town of Caerphilly itself offers charming streets, local shops, and a vibrant atmosphere. Visitors can also explore the nearby Castell Coch, another stunning castle built by Gilbert de Clare, or take a leisurely stroll through the picturesque countryside surrounding the castle.

For nature enthusiasts, the Brecon Beacons National Park is within easy reach, offering breathtaking landscapes, hiking trails, and outdoor adventures. The park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife spotting.

How to Visit Caerphilly Castle

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Visiting Caerphilly Castle is a must for anyone with an interest in history, architecture, or simply a sense of adventure. The castle is easily accessible by car, with ample parking available nearby. There are also public transportation options, including train and bus services, that connect Caerphilly to other major cities in Wales.

The castle is open to the public throughout the year, with varying opening hours depending on the season. Admission fees apply, with discounts available for children, seniors, and families and guided tours are available for those who wish to delve deeper into the castle’s history and stories.

It is advisable to check the official website of Cadw, the organization responsible for the preservation and management of Caerphilly Castle, for the most up-to-date information on visiting hours, admission fees, and any special events or exhibitions.


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Caerphilly Castle stands as a testament to the power, ambition, and architectural genius of its builders. Its grandeur and unique defensive features make it a truly remarkable castle, ranking among the finest medieval fortresses in Europe.

From its early days as a military stronghold to its transformation into a palatial home, and its subsequent decline and restoration, Caerphilly Castle has witnessed centuries of history and continues to captivate visitors with its rich heritage. Exploring this magnificent castle is like stepping back in time, immersing oneself in a world of knights, nobles, and Welsh legends.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an architecture lover, or simply seeking an unforgettable experience, a visit to Caerphilly Castle promises to be an adventure filled with wonder, discovery, and a deep appreciation for the past.
Inside Caerphilly Castle.

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