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Welsh: Caerdydd
Cardiff Montage.png
Cardiff Bay, the Millennium Stadium,
the Senedd, Cardiff University
Grid reference: ST180766
Location: 51°28’57"N, 3°10’53"W
Population: 324,800  (est)
Post town: Cardiff
Postcode: CF3, CF5, CF10-11,
CF14-15, CF23-24
Dialling code: 029
Local Government
Council: Cardiff
Cardiff West
Cardiff South and Penarth
Cardiff North
Cardiff Central

Cardiff is a major city in the southeast of Glamorgan, of which it is the county town. Cardiff is the largest city in Wales and was declared the Capital of Wales in 1955. The city is the chief commercial centre of south Wales, the base for most national cultural and sporting institutions, the Welsh national media, and the seat of the Welsh Assembly.

According to recent estimates, the population of the city is 324,800, while the wider metropolitan area has a population of nearly 1.1 million, more than a third of the total Welsh population. Cardiff is a significant tourism centre and the most popular visitor destination in Wales, drawing 14.6 million visitors in 2009.[1]

A small town until the early 19th century, Cardiff rose to prominence as a major port in the later eighteenth century for the transport of copper and later coal. The port facilities and associated new suburbs were developed by the Earl of Bute, from whom Butetown is named. As the industrial revolution took hold and the mines of the Glamorgan and Monmouthshire valleys sent their coal to the port, Cardiff grew into a major city.

Cardiff was made a city in 1905. It was proclaimed Capital of Wales in 1955 (although the significance is unclear. In that year, the Minister for Welsh Affairs, Gwilym Lloyd-George, commented in a Parliamentary written answer that "no formal measures are necessary to give effect to this decision"). Since the 1990s Cardiff has seen significant development with a new waterfront area at Cardiff Bay which contains the Senedd building, home to the Welsh Assembly and the Wales Millennium Centre arts complex.

Sporting venues in the city include the Millennium Stadium (the national stadium for the Wales national rugby union team and the Wales national football team), SWALEC Stadium (the home of Glamorgan County Cricket Club), Cardiff City Stadium (the home of Cardiff City football team and Cardiff Blues rugby union team) and Cardiff International Sports Stadium (the home of Cardiff Amateur Athletic Club). The city is also HQ of the Wales Rally GB and was awarded with the European City Of Sport in 2009 due to its role in hosting major international sporting events.

Name of the city

Cardiff Castle, with part of the original Roman fort

The name "Cardiff" derived from the city's Welsh name, Caerdydd. This is believed to derive from the British (or Old Welsh) language meaning "the fort on the Taff".

The fort refers to that established by the Romans. "Dydd" or "Diff" are both modifications of "Taff", the river on which Cardiff Castle stands. According to Professor Hywel Wyn Owen, a leading modern authority on toponymy, the Welsh pronunciation of "Caerdyff" as "Caerdydd" shows the colloquial alternation of Welsh "-f" and "-dd".[2]

The antiquarian William Camden (1551–1623) suggested that the name Cardiff may derive from the name "Caer-Didi" ("the Fort of Didius"), given in honour of Aulus Didius Gallus, governor of a nearby province at the time when the Roman fort was established. Although some websites repeat this theory as fact, it is disputed by modern scholars on linguistic grounds.


The centre of Cardiff is relatively flat and is bounded by hills on the outskirts to the east, north and west. Its geographic features were influential in its development as the world's largest coal port, most notably its proximity and easy access to the coal fields of the south Wales valleys.

Cardiff is built on reclaimed marshland on a bed of Triassic stones; this reclaimed marshland stretches from Chepstow in Monmouthshire to the Ely Estuary,[3] which is the natural boundary of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. Triassic landscapes of this part of the world are usually shallow and low-lying which accounts and explains the flatness of the centre of Cardiff.[4] The classic Triassic marl, sand and conglomerate rocks are used predominantly throughout Cardiff as building materials. Many of these Triassic rocks have a purple complexion, especially the coastal marl found near Penarth. One of the Triassic rocks used in Cardiff is "Radyr Stone", a freestone which as it name suggests is quarried in the Radyr district.[5] Cardiff has also imported some materials for buildings: Devonian sandstones (the Old Red Sandstone) from the Brecon Beacons has been used. Most famously, the buildings of Cathays Park, the civic centre in the centre of the city, are built of Portland stone which was imported from Dorset.[6] A widely used building stone in Cardiff is the yellow-grey Liassic limestone rock of the Vale of Glamorgan, including the very rare "Sutton Stone", a conglomerate of lias limestone and carboniferous limestone.[7]

West of Cardiff is Glamorgan's richest agricultural area where the shire broadens is gentle, verdant hills, and which land has been called "The Garden of Cardiff".[8]. The cityscape runs right up to Glamorgan's eastern boundary, the River Rhymney and indeed has suburbs beyond in Monmouthshire, reaching towards Newport. North of the city the hills of Glamorgan rise up toward the mountains

The foot of Cardiff is washed by the sea. The city centre lies above the seafront, but to the south Butetown stretches down to the old docks on Cardiff Bay. The area around Bay was known colloquially as Tiger Bay for generations, but since its redevelopment as a new centre for the city it has been dubbed simply "Cardiff Bay". The bay has been bottled in with the Cardiff Bay Barrage, and its tidal mudflats flooded permanently, the great bay turned into a freshwater lake. Beyond the barrage the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel roll.

The River Taff winds through the centre of the city and together with the River Ely it flows into Cardiff Bay. The Rhymney is further east and flows directly into the Severn Estuary.

Cardiff is situated near the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, stretching westward from Penarth and Barry—commuter towns of Cardiff—with striped yellow-blue Jurassic limestone cliffs. The Glamorgan coast is the only part of the Celtic Sea that has exposed Jurassic (blue lias) geology. This stretch of coast, which has reefs, sandbanks and serrated cliffs, was a ship graveyard; ships sailing up to Cardiff during the industrial era oftentimes failed to make it as far as Cardiff as many were wrecked around this hostile coastline during west/south-westerly gales. Consequently, smuggling, deliberate shipwrecking and attacks on ships were common.[9]

Llandaff Cathedral

The Cathedral Church of Llandaff

Llandaff Cathedral stands in the suburb village of Llandaff in the niorth of the city. It has been part of Cardiff since 1922. The Diocese of Llandaff is one of the six dioceses of the Church in Wales.

The Cathedral’s full name is The Cathedral Church of SS Peter & Paul, Dyfrig, Teilo and Euddogwy.

In the sixth century St Dyfrig founded a monastic community close to the ford where the Roman road crossed the river Taff. He and his successors, St Teilo and Teilo's nephew, St Euddogwy, provide the latter part of the cathedral's dedication. The original church is entitely lost, though an old Celtic cross which predates the current cathedral still stands in the grounds, by the Chapter House door.

In 1107 Bishop Urban built the current church on the site of the old, and much of Urban's work remains. The Cathedral was extended in about 1220, at which time the West Front was built; considered to be one of the two or three most notable mediaeval works of art in Wales. The Chapter House followed in the next century and further work over the Middle Ages. St Teilo's tomb was a popular place of pilgrimage until the Reformation.

The Cathedral suffered in the Blitz during the Second World War and the current building has been heavily restored, giving it a lighter, more spacious aspect.


Ancient remains unearthed in the Cardiff area include the St Lythans burial chamber near Wenvoe (four miles west of Cardiff City Centre), the Tinkinswood burial chamber, near St Nicholas (six miles west of the City Centre), the Cae'rarfau Chambered Tomb and Creigiau (six miles north west of the City Centre); remains of Neolithic folk dwelling in Glamorgan by around 4,000 BC, about 1,500 years before either Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza was completed.[10][11][12][13] Bronze Age tumuli and Iron Age hillforts are found round about.

When the Romans arrived, the land which became Cardiff was part of the territory of the Silures, a tribe which flourished in the Iron Age and whose territory included the areas that would become known as Brecknockshire, Monmouthshire and Glamorgan.[14] The Romans founded Cardiff; they built an 8 acre fort near the mouth of the River Taff in 75 AD, in what would become the north western boundary of the centre of Cardiff, though it is believd that it was built over an extensive British settlement.[15] The fort was one of a series of military outposts associated with Isca Augusta (Caerleon) that acted as border defences. The fort may have been abandoned in the early 2nd century as the area had been subdued, however by this time a civilian settlement was established. It was likely made up of traders who made a living from the fort, ex-soldiers and their families. A Roman villa has been discovered at Ely.[16] Contemporary with the Saxon Shore Forts of the 3rd and 4th centuries, a stone fortress was established at Cardiff. Similar to the shore forts, the fortress was built to protect Britannia from raiders.[17] Coins from the reign of Gratian indicate that Cardiff was inhabited until at least the 4th century.

Little is known about the fort and civilian settlement in the period between the Roman departure from Britain and the Norman Conquest. Historian William Rees suggests that the settlement probably shrank in size and may even have been abandoned. In the absence of Roman rule, the lands which became Wales were divided into small kingdoms. Early on, Meurig ap Tewdrig emerged as the local king in Glywysing (which later became Glamorgan). The kingdom passed through his family until the advent of the Normans in the 11th century.[18]

Norman occupation to the Middle Ages

View of Caerdiffe Castle (sic)

In 1081, William the Conqueror began work on the castle keep within the walls of the old Roman fort.[19] Cardiff Castle has been at the heart of the city ever since. The castle was substantially altered and extended during the Victorian period by John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, and the architect William Burges. Original Roman work can, however, still be distinguished in the wall facings.

A small town grew up in the shadow of the castle, made up primarily of settlers from England.[20] Cardiff had a population of between 1,500 and 2,000 in the Middle Ages, noty a great size. By the end of the 13th century, Cardiff was the only town in Wales with a population exceeding 2,000, but it was relatively small compared with notable towns in England.[21]

In the early 12th century a wooden palisade was erected around the city to protect it. Cardiff was a busy port in the Middle Ages, and was declared a Staple port in 1327.

In 1404 Owain Glyndŵr burned Cardiff and took Cardiff Castle. As the town was still very small, most of the buildings were made of wood and the town was destroyed. However, the town was soon rebuilt and began to flourish once again.[22]

Early modern Cardiff

The Laws in Wales Act 1535 turned the Lordship of Glamorgan into a county, of which Cardiff was made the county town. It was subsequently made part of Kibbor hundred. Around this same time the Herbert family became the most powerful family in the area.[20] In 1538, King Henry VIII closed the Dominican and Franciscan friaries in Cardiff, whose abandoned building supplied building materials for the town.[22] A writer around this period described Cardiff: "The River Taff runs under the walls of his honours castle and from the north part of the town to the south part where there is a fair quay and a safe harbour for shipping."[22]

Cardiff had become a Free Borough in 1542. In 1573, it was made a head port for collection of customs duties, and in 1581, Elizabeth I granted Cardiff its first royal charter.[20] Pembrokeshire historian George Owen described Cardiff in 1602 as "the fayrest towne in Wales yett not the welthiest.",[20] and the town gained a second Royal Charter in 1608.[23] Disastrous flooding led to a change in the course of the River Taff and the ruining of St Mary's Parish Church, which was replaced by its chapel of ease, St John the Baptist.

During the Second English Civil War, at St Fagans just to the west of the town was fought the Battle of St Fagans between Royalists and a detachment of the New Model Army, which was a decisive victory for the Parliamentarians and allowed Oliver Cromwell to occupy south Wales. It is the last major battle to occur in Wales, in which about 200 were slain on the field.[20]

Beginnings of growth

In the century after the civil wars, Cardiff was at peace. In 1766, John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute married into the Herbert family and was later created Baron Cardiff,[20] and in 1778 he began renovations on Cardiff Castle.[24] In the 1790s a racecourse, printing press, bank and coffee house all opened, and Cardiff gained a stagecoach service to London. Despite these improvements, Cardiff's position in the Welsh urban hierarchy had declined over the 18th century. Iolo Morgannwg called it "an obscure and inconsiderable place", and the 1801 census found the population to be only 1,870; twenty-four Welsh towns were larger.[25]

Building of the docks

Ships at the coal docks

In 1793, John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute was born. He would spend his life building the Cardiff docks and would later be called "the creator of modern Cardiff".[20] A twice-weekly boat service between Cardiff and Bristol was established in 1815,[24] and in 1821, the Cardiff Gas Works was established.[24]

After the Napoleonic Wars, Cardiff fell quiet. However it began to grow rapidly from the 1830s, when the Marquess of Bute built a dock which eventually linked to the Taff Vale Railway. Cardiff became the main port for exports of coal from the Cynon, Rhondda, and Rhymney valleys, and grew at a rate of nearly 80% per decade between 1840 and 1870. Much of the growth was due to migration from across the British Isles: in 1841, a quarter of Cardiff's population were English-born and more than 10% had been born in Ireland.[26] By the 1881 census, Cardiff had overtaken both Merthyr and Swansea to become the largest town in Wales.[27] Cardiff's new status as the premier town in South Wales was confirmed when it was chosen as the site of the University College South Wales and Monmouthshire in 1893.[25]

Cardiff faced a challenge in the 1880s when David Davies of Llandinam and the Barry Railway Company promoted the development of rival docks at Barry. Barry docks had the advantage of being accessible in all tides, and David Davies claimed that his venture would cause "grass to grow in the streets of Cardiff". From 1901 coal exports from Barry surpassed those from Cardiff, but the administration of the coal trade remained centred on Cardiff, in particular its Coal Exchange, where the price of coal on the British market was determined and the first million-pound deal was struck in 1907.[25] The city also strengthened its industrial base with the decision of the owners of the Dowlais Ironworks in Merthyr (who would later form part of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds) to build a new steelworks close to the docks at East Moors, which was opened on 4 February 1891 by Lord Bute.[28]

City and capital city status

Welsh National War Memorial, Cathays Park

King Edward VII granted Cardiff city status on 28 October 1905.[29] In the following years an increasing number of national institutions were located in the city, including the National Museum of Wales, Welsh National War Memorial, and the University of Wales Registry Building—however, it was denied the National Library of Wales, partly because the library's founder, Sir John Williams, considered Cardiff to have "a non-Welsh population".[25]

After a brief post-war boom, Cardiff docks entered a prolonged decline in the interwar period. By 1936, their trade was less than half its value in 1913, reflecting the slump in demand for Welsh coal.[25]

During the Second World War, Cardiff was targeted by the Luftwaffe for its docks and industrial installations, at a time when the city was still the busiest port in the world. The Cardiff Blitz between 1940 and 1944 was a heavy punishment for the town. More than 2,100 bombs fell and 355 died. On the worst night, 2-3 January 1941, 165 people were killed and 427 more injured, while nearly 350 homes were destroyed or had to be demolished. Chapels and the knave of Llandaff Cathedral were also damaged. The eventual devastation of mediæval Llandaff Cathedral in the Blitz was a partcular blow.

After the Second World War

In the immediate postwar years the city's link with the Bute family came to an end.

Fifty years after it had become a city, Cardiff was proclaimed capital city of Wales on 20 December 1955, by a written reply by the Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George. Caernarfon had also vied for this title.[30] The Encyclopedia of Wales notes that the decision to recognise the city as the capital of Wales "had more to do with the fact that it contained marginal Conservative constituencies than any reasoned view of what functions a Welsh capital should have". The city hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1958. Notwithstanding its nominal status as a capital city, Cardiff only became a centre of administration with the establishment of the Welsh Office in 1964, which later prompted the creation of various other public bodies such as the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Development Agency, most of which were based in Cardiff.

The East Moors Steelworks closed in 1978 and Cardiff lost population during the 1980s,[31] consistent with a wider pattern of counter urbanisation in Britain. However, it recovered and was one of the few cities (outside London) where population grew during the 1990s.[32] During this period the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation was promoting the redevelopment of south Cardiff; an evaluation of the regeneration of Cardiff Bay published in 2004 concluded that the project had "reinforced the competitive position of Cardiff" and "contributed to a massive improvement in the quality of the built environment", although it had failed "to attract the major inward investors originally anticipated".[33]

When the new Welsh Assembly was established in 1999, it was located in Tŷ Hywel in the Cardiff Bay area. In 2005, a new debating chamber, the Senedd, was established on an adjacent site, designed by Richard Rogers, was opened.


As its largest city, Cardiff is the main engine of growth in the economy of South Wales. The economy of Cardiff and adjacent areas makes up nearly 20% of Welsh GDP and 40% of the city's workforce are daily in-commuters from the surrounding south Wales area.[34][35]

Industry has played a major part in Cardiff's development for many centuries. The main catalyst for its transformation from a small town into a big city was the demand for coal required in making iron and later steel, brought to the sea by packhorse from Merthyr Tydfil. This was first achieved by the construction of a 25-mile long canal from Merthyr (510 feet above sea-level) to the Taff Estuary at Cardiff.[36] Eventually the Taff Vale Railway replaced the canal barges and massive marshalling yards sprang up as new docks were developed in Cardiff – all prompted by the soaring worldwide demand for coal from the South Wales valleys.

At its peak, Cardiff's port area, known as Tiger Bay, became the busiest port in the world and, for some time, the world's most important coal port.[37][38] In the years leading up to the First World War, more than 10 million tons of coal was exported annually from Cardiff Docks.[39] In 1907, Cardiff's Coal Exchange was the first host to a business deal for a million pounds Sterling.[40] After a period of decline, Cardiff's port has started to grow again – over 3 million tonnes of cargo passed through the docks in 2007.[41]

The Coal Exchange

Today, Cardiff is the principal finance and business services centre of South Wales, and as such there is a strong representation of finance and business services in the local economy. This sector, combined with the Public Administration, Education and Health sectors, have accounted for around 75% of Cardiff's economic growth since 1991.[42]

Cardiff is the one of the most popular tourist destination cities in the United Kingdom, receiving 14.6 million visitors in 2009.[43] One result of this is that one in five employees in Cardiff are based in the distribution, hotel and restaurant sector, highlighting the growing retail and tourism industries in the city.[42] There are a large number of hotels of varying sizes and standards in the city, providing almost 9,000 available bed spaces.[43]

Sights about the city

Millennium Stadium

Cardiff has many landmark buildings such as the Millennium Stadium, Pierhead Building the Welsh National Museum and the Senedd, the home of the National Assembly for Wales. However Cardiff is also famous for Cardiff Castle, St David's Hall, Llandaff Cathedral and the Wales Millennium Centre.

Cardiff has over 1,000 listed buildings, ranging from the more prominent buildings such as the castles, to smaller buildings, houses and structures.[44]

Cardiff has walks of special interest for tourists and ramblers alike, including the Centenary Walk, which runs for almost 2½ miles within Cardiff city centre and passes through many of Cardiff's landmarks and historic buildings.


The Keep, Cardiff Castle

Standing on the narrowest part of the south Wales coastal plain, Cardiff had a crucial strategic importance in the wars between the Normans (who had occupied lowland Wales) and the Welsh princes who maintained their hold on the uplands. As a result, Cardiff claims to have the largest concentration of castles of any city in the world.

Cardiff Castle is a major tourist attraction in the city and is situated in the heart of the city centre. Built in the footprint of a Roman fort, whose masonry is still visible, rebuilt as a Norman Castle by William the Bastard and reformed by the mediaeval Lords of Glamorgan, and reshaped to create a luxurious residence by the Marquess of Bute, the castle is now owned by the City Council and open to visitors.

Castell Coch ("Red Castle") is in Tongwynlais, in the north of the city. The current castle is an elaborately decorated Victorian folly designed by William Burges for the Marquess and built in the 1870s, as an occasional retreat. However, the Victorian castle stands on the footings of a much older mediæval castle possibly built by Ifor Bach, a regional baron with links to Cardiff Castle also. The exterior has become a popular location for film and television productions. It rarely fulfilled its intended role as a retreat for the Butes, who seldom stayed there. For the Marquess, the pleasure had been in its creation, a pleasure lost following Burges's death in 1881.

Saint Fagans Castle now serves as the National History Museum.

Twmpath Castle remains[45]

Treoda (or Whitchurch Castle) stood in Whitchurch but has now been built over.[46]

City centre

Cardiff University

The National History Museum at St Fagans in Cardiff is a large open air museum housing dozens of buildings from throughout Welsh history that have been moved to the site in Cardiff.

The Civic Centre in Cathays Park comprises a collection of Edwardian buildings such as the City Hall, National Museum and Gallery of Wales, Cardiff Crown Court, and buildings forming part of Cardiff University, together with more modern civic buildings.

These buildings surround a small green space containing the Welsh National War Memorial and a number of other smaller memorials.

Cardiff Bay

The Millennium Centre

Other major tourist attractions are the Cardiff Bay regeneration sites which include the recently opened Wales Millennium Centre and the Senedd, and many other cultural and sites of interest including the Cardiff Bay Barrage and the famous Coal Exchange. Cardiff Bay was formerly known as "Tiger Bay" the rough dockland area, now utterly transformed.

The New Theatre was founded in 1906 and completely refurbished in the 1980s. Until the opening of the Wales Millennium Centre in 2004, it was the premier venue in Wales for touring theatre and dance companies. Other venues which are popular for concerts and sporting events include Cardiff International Arena, St David's Hall and the Millennium Stadium. Cardiff Story, a museum documenting the city's history, opened in Spring 2011.


Llandaff is now a suburb in northern Cardiff. It is dominated by Llandaff Cathedral and the Llandaff Bishop's Palace.


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