In 1955 Cardiff was created the official capital of Wales. The other contenders for the title, Machynlleth and Caernarvon had stronger historical claims, but Cardiff had better communications, was more accessible to London and, thanks to its docks, was a more flourishing centre of trade and industry.
Welsh speakers prefer to call the city Caerdydd, meaning ‘seat of Dydd’. The identity of Dydd is uncertain, but he was probably a Roman commander the genesis of Cardiff was a Roman fort, built in what are now the castle grounds in AD 75. After the Norman conquest, Robert Fitzhamon built a motte and bailey castle in 1093, and this was replaced by a stone keep in the 12th century, the remains of which, restored in the 19th century by the Marquess of Bute, can be seen in the castle grounds.
In the Tudor period, the inhabitants of Cardiff were notorious pirates, preying on shipping in the Bristol Channel, with the connivance of the city officials who grew rich on the proceeds. Seafaring continued to be an occupation even after piracy had been suppressed, but it did not become important to the city until the. coal and iron ore of South Wales began to be exploited during the Industrial Revolution. It was the 2nd Marquess of Bute, whose family had acquired land in Cardiff, who saw the potential of this trade and in 1839 built the city’s first dock – Bute West, later much extended.
This was the foundation of the city’s prosperity and by the outbreak of World War 1 Cardiff was the world’s premier port for the export of coal. In 1898 the Bute family sold Cathays Park to the city corporation, and this ‘ became the site for an impressive complex of public buildings comprising the City Hall, the Law Courts, the National Museum of Wales, County Hall, the University of Wales Registry, the University of South Wales, the Welsh Office, the Temple of Peace and Health and the Welsh National War Memorial. All were built between 1905 and 1938.
The little city of Llandaff officially became part of Cardiff in 1922, but it still retains a sense of identity, clustered closely round its ancient cathedral. The present building, begun in the 12th century, stands on the site of a church founded by St Teilo in the 6th; it has survived several periods of ill-treatment and neglect and even a German landmine. The interior is dominated by Epstein’s soaring aluminium figure of Christ in Majesty. Many of the windows were decorated by the Pre-Raphaelites; Burne-Jones, Swinburne and William and Jane Morris were models in Llandaff’s Rossetti Triptych. Outside, by contrast, is a 10th-century Celtic cross. Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose Historia Regum Britanniae was a major contribution to Arthurian legend, was archdeacon of Llandaff c1140. The cathedral grounds contain the remains of a 13th-century bell tower, and a public garden lies inside the ruins of a former bishop’s palace, sacked by Owain Glyndwr in 1402.
When the second phase of the Civil War swept across South Wales, many of the people rose against Parliament, and a unit of the New Model Army crushed the revolt at St Fagan’s, on the outskirts of Cardiff. Nowadays, St Fagan’s has more pleasant associations as the home of the Welsh Folk Museum, which is accommodated in the grounds of the 16th-century castle. The exhibits include a woollen mill, several old Welsh farmhouses, a tannery, a tollgate, a chapel and a quarryman’s cottage. In addition to the buildings, which have been brought here from all parts of Wales and re-erected, there are interesting galleries devoted to Welsh life, and craftsmen regularly display their skills.