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Cardiff Castle has a long and interesting history which means there are lots of facts about the Castle that you didn’t know before. Keep reading to find out the most interesting parts of Cardiff Castle’s history.

1. A Fortification Has Sat on the Site Since the Roman Period

It is thought that the Romans built a series of four castles where Cardiff Castle now sits. This was probably as early as the 50s AD. Some of the remains of the original Roman walls can be seen around the castle today, for example, a section has been preserved in the visitors centre1 (source: J. Kenyon, The Medieval Castles of Wales, pp. 110-11, 2010).

The archaeological evidence suggests that four fortifications stood on the site during the Roman period. They were all different types of fortification and of different sizes. Archaeologists think that the last fortification was made of stone and that this is the one that remains today. They believe the location of the castle was chosen by the Romans because of its proximity to the sea which would have been a strategic advantage.

Cardiff Castle Front Gates

2. The City is Named After the Castle

You might think that Cardiff Castle is named after the city of Cardiff, but it’s actually the city that gets its name from the castle. The word ‘Cardiff; comes from the medieval Welsh word ‘Caerdyf”.

When you break this word down, ‘Caer’ means fort and ‘dyf’ is a corrupt word for the river staff. So it basically means ‘The Fort on the River Taff’, a reference to the castle which is built right near the River Taff.

3. In Norman Times, the Bathrooms Overhung the Castle Walls and Waste Dropped into the Moat

During the Norman period (1066-1154) buildings did not have proper bathrooms, and they certainly didn’t have running water. Instead of bathrooms, they used what’s called a garderobe, or a privy chamber. These were small rooms that appear to be attached to the outside walls of the castle because they projected outwards slightly2 (source: World History Encyclopedia).

Inside there would simply be a wooden bench with a hole, on which the individual would sit. This hole would connect to a shaft which would connect to another hole in the overhang where the waste would fall. In the case of Cardiff Castle, this waste fell into the moat which you can imagine must have become very smelly.

Cardiff Castle Tower and Moat

4. During the Second World War, the Castle Provided Air Raid Shelters

During the Second World War, Cardiff city was heavily bombed. It is estimated that over 2,000 bombs were dropped on the city. Because the Castle’s walls were so thick they provided great protection from this bombardment. Whilst people who had the means to do so relied on homemade Anderson and Morrison shelters, those who worked in the city or could not access other shelters, relied on the Castle for protection. 

It is said that the Marquess of Brute had originally kept, maintained and extended the tunnels because he liked to be able to go on his daily walks even when the Welsh weather did not allow him to. Because of this, there was a large expanse of tunnels, set within thick walls in which the inhabitants of Cardiff could hide. Entrances were knocked into the outside of the walls and wooden ramps place before them. This was in order to ensure people could access the shelter quickly3 (source: Visit Cardiff).

5. The Castle Shares a Connection with Big Ben!

The castle’s clock which sits on its very own clock tower was designed by Edward Dent, the same man who designed Big Ben’s clock. The tower itself was designed by William Burges in 1866 as part of the renovation of the south wall. The clock face is flanked by 10 ft (3m) statues which represent the principal planets4 (source: Cardiff Castle).

In its entirety, the tower took about five years to build. It stands at 132 ft (40m) tall and holds seven rooms, one on each floor. There are two rooms below the parapet walk which were originally designed as accommodation for the gardener. There was also a Winter and Summer Smoking Room, Clock Room, Bachelor’s Bedroom, Clock Room, and a Maid’s Kitchen.

6. You Can Walk Round Some of the Grounds for Free

Did you know that you can access the castle’s outer green for free? The outer green is also known as the Public Square and is open to the public. From the Square, you can access the Castle Cafe, Gift Shop, Visitor Information Point and public toilets.

You are able to bring your own food to the Square but you are not allowed to consume it on the Cafe seating. See my full guide to find out more about visiting Cardiff Castle.

7. The Original Normal Castle was a Motte and Bailey Castle.

The original Castle built here by the Normans was a motte and bailey castle. This was a kind of castle which was built on top of a man-made hill, usually out of timber. The benefit of these kinds of castles is that they could be built quickly by a kingdom at war. 

The mound on which they sat was made of compacted earth, stones and clay. The lord of the castle would have lived in the keep atop the hill and everyone else would have lived and worked in the ‘bailey’, the courtyard at the base of the mound5 (source: J. Kenyon, The Medieval Castles of Wales, p3, 2010).

For more information on motte and bailey castles, see my full guide to the history of Cardiff Castle.

Molly is Wales Guidebook's expert on castles. She has a master's degree in history and studied at Swansea University where she learnt about Welsh history and it's many castles. Molly loves to get out and explore historical buildings in person, with Oystermouth, Cardiff, and Caerphilly Castles among her favourites. When not geeking out on castles, Molly likes to spend her time reading, exploring the countryside or in the gym.