Cardiff's history spans over 2000 years.
Cardiff’s rich culture has a diverse range of influences, from the Romans and Normans of antiquity to the industrial revolution and the coal industry – which transformed Cardiff from a small town into a thriving, international city.
Origins of the Name
There are two rival theories regarding the precise origins of the name Cardiff or Caerdydd in Welsh. There is uncertainty concerning the origin of “Caerdydd” — “Caer” means “fort” or “castle,” but although “Dydd” means “Day” in modern Welsh, it is unclear what was meant in this context. Some believe that “Dydd ” or “Diff” was a corruption of “Taff”, the river on which Cardiff Castle stands, in which case “Cardiff” would mean “the fort on the river Taff” (in Welsh the T mutates to D). A rival theory favours a link with Aulus Didius Gallus who was a Roman governor in the region at the time the fort was established. The name may have originated as Caer Didius – The Fort of Didius.
Cardiff lies at the centre of three river systems, the Taff, the Ely and the Rhymney. Its location allowed its first residents to control trade and movement along these rivers, giving them power over a large area. The first people to take advantage of this location were the Romans who set up a fort here on the site of Cardiff Castle about AD55-60. This dominating fort protected its inhabitants until about AD350-375 when it was abandoned at the end of Roman rule in Britain. The Vikings and the Normans also made their presence felt in Cardiff, and then in 1091 Robert Fitzhamon began work on the castle keep, which has been at the heart of the city ever since.
The medieval castle dates from the 11th century, when the Normans conquered Glamorgan. It was begun by William the Conqueror on his return from St Davids in Pembrokeshire, in 1081. The castle was originally built in wood. In the 12th century, Robert Consol, Duke of Gloucester, rebuilt it in stone.
The medieval town started as a relatively small enclosure marked out by Working Street and Womanby (Hummanbye) Streets’ both names are linked to Old Norse. In the second stage of its development, Cardiff expanded south. The town was then enclosed and defended to the east by a bank and ditch and eventually a stone gate. To the west, the town was protected by the meandering river Taff.
In the 15th century, the town was destroyed by Owain Glyndŵr’s Welsh army and the Castle lay in ruins until Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, restored the defences and castle buildings including the octagonal tower in 1423.
Much of the rest of the castle and walls date back to the 19th century, when the third Marquess of Bute employed William Burges to restore, refurbish and rebuild it.
In 1794, the ironmasters of Merthyr Tydfil opened the Glamorganshire Canal, which linked Merthyr Tydfil with Cardiff for the transport of iron and then later used to transport the huge amounts of coal for export following the opening of the West Bute Dock in 1839 by the 2nd Marquess of Bute. This saw Cardiff become the biggest coal exporting port in the world, resulting in Edward VII granting Cardiff city status in 1905. The port reached its peak in 1913, with more than 10 million tons going through the port.
After going into decline in the 70’s and 80’s Cardiff’s docks and city centre have now been regenerated. Cardiff Bay is now a thriving waterside development, and the construction of the Millennium Stadium in the city centre helped transformed Cardiff into a true European capital city.