Cardiff Castle was the coolest castle I’ve seen so far, and the highlight of my Cardiff weekend.
Walking along the animal wall in the city center and through the castle walls, I see a neat little castle on a rise, looking just like a castle should: tower, battlements, arrow slits; made of stone and a bit crumbly. Is that it? It seems out-of-place for the length of the surrounding walls, and not quite up to the hype of Cardiff Castle.
It turns out that cute little castle on the hill is the Norman keep, built on top of one of four Roman forts. There’s another castle on the side, a 15th, 18th and 19th century wonder that distinguishes itself from all the other castles I’ve seen because it is not a ruin. Cardiff Castle was lived in until after WWII, and completely redecorated in the late 1800s, so I got to see what a fully furnished castle looks like!
See, the Marquis of Bute inherited Cardiff Castle in the 19th century as one of his ten estates. (Because spending 2 weeks a year in your little castle in Wales was the thing to do when you’re a Scottish aristocrat and you have more castles than you can live in at once.) And since this guy was born the richest man in the entire world, he decided to rip out all that terribly boring 18th century interior and put in his (and the architect, William Burges’s) romanticized notion of the medieval style. That means gold leaf, whimsical carvings, stained glass, decorations on every surface, paintings of people in medieval garb, zodiac signs, and bizarre fancies like ice skating figures (yeah, ice skating wasn’t exactly around in the Middle Ages, guys).
It is glorious.
The first room we went in was the “gentleman’s room” (eye roll), complete with a creepy demon figure on the ceiling to scare the ladies away. The room itself was unbelievably beautiful (x-box hadn’t been invented yet and this is as close as they could get to a man-cave).
The walls of the children’s nursery are covered in fanciful murals of fairy tales and other less obvious choices: Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, and Robin Hood were depicted beside St. George and the dragon, Robinson Crusoe, and Lady Godiva. The lamps had outlines like the cat and the fiddle.
The weirdest room, in my humble opinion, was the Marquis’s room, all decked out in symbolism from John’s book of Revelation. The Marquis was so Roman Catholic, he thought having a statue of St. John, 7 stained glass windows depicting angels holding the 7 churches of Revelation, and ceiling mirrors that reflect the word “John” everywhere, wasn’t enough. No, he also needed angels with glass eyes that follow you wherever you stand in the room and a dresser that looks like a confessional.
Finally, the library. Yes, the walls and fireplace are ornately covered in colorful patterns and homages to authors from history. Yes, the crests of Welsh princes hang above an incredible collection of books. But I admit the library’s biggest draw for me is that it was the filming location for the TARDIS’s library in the latest season of Doctor Who. How cool is that?! It’s a bit smaller than it looked on-screen, but still completely awesome.
Then it’s up to the charming Norman keep for incredible views and a more castle-like feel. The steps up to the keep are seriously steep, but the ones up to the top of the tower are almost like climbing a ladder! And look: my first real moat! Oh yeah, I’m never getting tired of castles.