As Cardiff’s former Coal Exchange, at The Exchange Hotel we’re dedicated to celebrating Cardiff history and landmarks. Without a doubt one of the best heritage attractions to visit in the Welsh capital is Cardiff Castle.
So, if you’re planning a visit to to soak up its rich and fascinating history, why not brush up on your knowledge of the castle’s past and present?
The Origins of Cardiff Castle
The history of Cardiff Castle begins with the Romans. In 55 AD, the Romans set up camp where the River Taff neared the Bristol Channel. They built extensive forts and stayed until the early 5th century.
Next, the Normans moved in and began fortifying the castle grounds. The Earl of Gloucester is said to have built the first stone keep at the castle.
The castle was then passed from family to family, starting with the de Clare’s in 1217. Due to the threat of attack, Gilbert ‘The Red’ had the castle’s defences reconstructed. Linking the keep with the south gate and the Black Tower, he had a central embattled wall built.
A Dark Era at Cardiff Castle
The castle’s history took a darker turn with The Despenser family (1317-1416 AD). Hugh Despenser was charged for the murder of Llewelyn Bren, who had been a good friend of the last young lord at the castle. Bren was also the great-grandson of Ifor Bach, a local Welsh hero.
The year 1400 saw the outbreak of the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndwr. Four years on, Owain took the revolt to a new level and set fire to the town and the castle. There’s no doubt that the attack was largely fuelled by resentment felt towards the Despenser family for Bren’s murder.
After the disappearance of Owain Glyndwr in around 1415, Cardiff Castle welcomed a new family, the Beauchamps. Following the defeat of Owain Glyndwr, there was an essence of peace in Glamorgan and the castle’s residents no longer had to rely on the safety of the keep. This shift saw new lodgings built against the West Curtain Wall, which can still be seen today.
Royalty at Cardiff Castle
In around 1480, Cardiff Castle became home to the future King of England Richard III. The Duke of Gloucester was made first Lord of Cardiff after marrying Ann Neville, daughter of Richard Wawrick who later became known as “Wawrick the King Maker”. Richard III was the official protector of the crown until young Prince Edward came of age to take control of the realm.
A public vote was cast and in 1483 Richard, Duke of Gloucester became King of England. The arrival of the Tudors at Cardiff Castle came after Richard III was defeated in battle. Cardiff Castle and the estates that came with it had been absorbed by the crown and were not passed onto the Neville family heir but instead granted to Jasper Tudor, the King’s Cousin, in 1486.
After this, Cardiff Castle remained under royal control until the arrival of the Herberts in 1551. During this time, Cardiff Castle was modernised and became a high-class residence of the times. Civil War broke out in 1642 and Cardiff Castle sustained heavy damage and so was abandoned as a home.
Passing through the hands of various heirs the dilapidated Cardiff Castle finally became Bute property in 1776, when the 1st Marquess of Bute took ownership.
While you’re here, why not check out our Cardiff bucket list? Perfect for planning your visit to the city.
A Look Inside Cardiff Castle
It is thanks to the Bute family that Cardiff Castle is among some of the most impressive Cardiff landmarks in Wales today. With the Bute family came power and prosperity, and the Butes were responsible for transforming Cardiff from a sleepy humdrum town into the thriving hub of the world coal trade.
The Norman Keep and Roman Fortress became a fantasy Victorian Gothic dream palace for people to visit and a site which people still enjoy today. Together, the talents of architect Burges and desires of the Marquess of Bute produced the extravagant interiors and welcoming grounds that have been preserved in the Castle to this day.
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My favourite “room” on the Cardiff Castle house tour was the roof garden. Originally an open roof, the centre of the room was made up of the fountain and filled flower boxes in the shape of the cross (the 3rd Marquess of Bute was very religious). The surrounding tiled walls tell the story of Elijah, scribed in Hebrew, one of 21 languages the Marquess could speak. Gorgeous!
Perched a top Bute Tower were the stunning Cardiff Castle roof gardens. One of the most visually striking Cardiff landmarks in existence, the rooftop gardens were designed with inspirations from all over the world.
Iron columns, painted tiled walls and mosaic floors made Cardiff Castle’s roof gardens a true feast for the eyes.
The Arab Rooms at Cardiff Castle
Found inside the Herbert Tower, The Arab Room was built as a social space for the ladies of the house. Burges perhaps unintentionally gave the apartment a distinctive harem feel.
The intricately carved ceiling is the rooms most striking feature yet the rest of the rooms décor is heavily influenced by the architects travel experiences abroad and the Marquess’ extravagant tastes.
The Banqueting Hall
The Grand vaulted ceiling of the Banqueting Hall is adorned with gilded angels and complemented by marbled finishes and quirky turreted fireplaces.
The Library at Cardiff Castle
Access to the stunning library can be gained by the impressive octagonal staircase, the only stairwell designed by Burges in the whole castle. Original furnishings include carved bookcases that line all the walls complete with intricate details such as small animals, birds, and insects.
Discover more Welsh history with the remarkable transition from Tiger Bay to Cardiff Bay. Read more here.
What Goes on Today at Cardiff Castle?
Thanks to the luxurious interior of Cardiff Castle, VIP events, dinners, and tours are hosted here almost daily. There are reenactments of the stories and tales associated with the castle and its rich and interesting history, as well as more modern events and occasions such as outdoor and underground cinema nights!
Other popular reasons to visit Cardiff Castle include the regular ghost tours of the castle grounds given by expert guides, music festivals, and recreated medieval jousts and battles.
Stay at The Exchange Hotel Cardiff
During your stay at the Exchange Hotel, visiting the top Cardiff landmarks is easy. We’re in the heart of the city, making it possible for you to explore the history of Cardiff at your leisure.
Make your reservation to stay at The Exchange Hotel today. You can also call and book a stay in Cardiff on 0151 236 0166 or email email@example.com. We also have unmissable accommodation offers available to choose from here!