The castle at Caernarfon (or Caernarvon in the anglicized version) has a colourful and impressive history, and it is one of the most famous of the Welsh Medieval Castles. It is the closest thing to a royal palace in Wales, it has been owned by the Crown since its construction by King Edward 1 in the 13th century. Caernarfon Castle is also surrounded by myths relating to King Arthur and Merlin; today it remains a landmark of both English and Welsh history.
The castle’s location is a natural spot for a fortification, situated as it is on the Menai Straits beside the Seiont River. Prior to King Edward’s time, it was the site of the Roman fort Segontium, briefly taken over by the Normans, then by the native Welsh, who were in turn overcome during Edward’s campaign to establish English rule over the country.
The castle, begun in 1282, was intended to house the royal garrison as well as the king’s household and to establish a stronghold of English influence in an area steeped in Welsh tradition and anti-English sentiment. Welsh inhabitants were forced out and the castle was built with walls 20 feet thick at the base and eight towers plus two twin-tower gates and water-filled moats around an 800-yard perimeter.
Construction took about 50 years (it has never been fully completed) and cost around £22,000, which at the time was a magnificent sum, equal to more than the annual income of the royal treasury. The fortifications, including moats, portcullises, drawbridges and interior spyholes, arrow loops and ‘murder holes’ made the castle virtually impregnable to invaders.
The architecture of Caernarfon Castle is unique in its design and decoration. King Edward was an enthusiastic Crusader, and the influence of the great city of Constantinople is visible in the castle’s exterior walls with their bands of colored stone and angular towers. The Eagle Tower, most famous of these, has a triple cluster of turrets, each bearing a stone eagle symbolizing English dominance.
Caernarfon Castle truly gained its place in English history when King Edward’s son was born at the castle in 1284 and later crowned the first English Prince of Wales, to become Edward 11 of England. In 1911 the castle again hosted the investiture of the Prince of Wales, who became Edward V111 of the United Kingdom. The tradition was carried on with the crowning of Charles, Prince of Wales in 1969.
For visitors today, the castle looks much as it did in 1323, a hugely imposing edifice that dominates the Menai Straits with an aura of strength and grandeur. Part of the original town wall remains, and the castle itself provides a marvelous tour of the labyrinth of rooms, halls, stairways and living quarters enclosed in its mighty walls.
Also housed here is the museum of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, oldest regiment in Wales, along with other exhibits that offer a fascinating glimpse into the region’s history.
A tour of Caernarfon Castle, available year-round, includes displays and videos that bring the past to life, from the time of the Romans at Segontium through the many dramatic events and upheavals that have transpired within and around its ancient walls.