Caernarfon Castle, Snowdonia
Caernarfon and the town enclosed by the Town Walls, was conceived as a single entity to be a military stronghold, royal palace and seat of government. It is probably the most famous of the great castles of North Wales, built by Edward I to secure the area. Unlike the castles of Conwy, Harlech and Beaumaris, which have round towers, Caernarfon (apart from the Town Walls) has unique polygonal towers and colour-banded masonry. Clearly the castle was meant to be a building marked out for a special role – that of the future official residence of the king’s representative who would be the first English Prince of Wales. It is likely that for this reason, the castle resembles the city walls of Constantinople, (modern Istanbul) one of the best known monuments of the Roman Empire.
Standing at the mouth of the Seiont River, wonderful views of Snowdon and Anglesey can be enjoyed from the battlements and particularly from the massive Eagle Tower. This is the greatest of the castle’s towers, which has three turrets decorated with numerous stone figures. On the west turret, a figure of an eagle is much weathered, but is still recognisable.
Edward I started building the castle in 1283, and in 1284, his son was born here and was formally created as the first English Prince of Wales in 1301 and endowed with the rule of all the Crown’s Welsh lands. From that date, the title has been given to the eldest son of the reigning monarch. This over six hundred year old tradition brought Caernarfon fame in 1969, when the investiture of HRH Prince Charles took place on the Dais in the Upper Ward of the castle, watched live by television viewers from all over the world.
In 1485, Henry Tudor became King Henry VII of England. He was of Welsh lineage and the improved relations with England reduced the need for English castles in Wales. These magnificent buildings were increasingly neglected and it is reported in 1538 that Caernarfon was ‘ferre in decaye for lakke of tymely reparations’. By 1620, only Eagle Tower and King’s Gate were still roofed.
During the English Civil War, (1642 – 1648) Caernarfon remained loyal to the King, but surrendered to parliamentary forces in 1646.
The North Wales slate industry, which was expanding both at home and overseas, brought prosperity. George and Robert Stephenson, in 1828, constructed a narrow gauge railway to carry slate from the Glodfarlon quarries at Nantile, ten miles away, to the quay. In 1852, the railway was connected by standard gauge to the London/Holyhead main line. The improved communications with the world outside North Wales, ended the centuries of neglect and repairs to the castle commenced at government expense. Nationwide interest grew and in 1987, recognition was granted as a World Heritage Site of outstanding universal value.