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Cardiff - Overview

Although the region shows extensive evidence of Prehistoric occupation, the origins of the Welsh capital lie with the establishment of a Roman fort c.55 AD, which was occupied until the late fourth century. In the early medieval period Meurig ap Tewdrig formed the small kingdom of Glywysing, which survived until the Norman invasion in the eleventh century. William I, King of England, commissioned the building of a castle on the site of the former Roman fort and a small, walled, market town quickly developed around it. Despite having been burned by Owain Glyndwr in 1404, the town maintained a healthy maritime trade, which by the sixteenth century stretched to France and the Channel Islands as well as to other ports around Britain. While Cardiff became the county town of Glamorgan in 1536 and underwent numerous improvements in the eighteenth century, including the expansion and rebuilding of Cardiff Castle by the 1st Marquis of Bute, growth was limited and it was dismissed as "an obscure and inconsiderable place".

Large scale growth and development started in the last decade of the eighteenth century when the building of canals to link the town to the coal mining regions to the north, and the sea basin, started Cardiff’s transformation into the largest coal exporting city in the world. In the 1830s the 2nd Marquess of Bute (the ‘Creator of Modern Cardiff’) built docks in Cardiff Bay, where prominent buildings include the Coal & Shipping Exchange and the Pier Head Building, and the town entered a period of rapid population growth with a subsequent expansion of its town limits and economic and industrial development. Much of the growth of the town was driven by immigration, highly visible in the multicultural character of the boroughs around the docks, most famously among them Tiger Bay. By the time of the 1881 census, Cardiff was the largest town in Wales; in 1905 it was granted city status, subsequently acquiring the National Museum of Wales, the headquarters of the University of Wales and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Wales. In 1955 it was made the capital city of Wales, and after the creation of a devolved National Assembly Government for Wales in 1997, hosts the Senedd. It also houses the Millennium Stadium, home to Wales’ national rugby team.

As sign of its international reputation and significance in the revival of Celtic languages and cultures along the west Atlantic coast, the National Eisteddfod held in Cardiff in 1899 was attended by a large delegation of writers, collectors of folklore, journalists and translators from Brittany. The Bretons eagerly reported home about their experiences, one and all praising the liveliness and model character of Welsh-language culture together with the splendour of the city.

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