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Cardiff History, United Kingdom

This history of Cardiff is both young and old.  It was only in this century that the city became the capital of Wales.  On the other side of the spectrum, though, archaeological evidence shows that the area that surrounds Cardiff has roots that date back to 4000 B.C. or earlier.  The proof of this ancient habitation comes in the form of a megalithic burial chamber.

Other than that, there is no archaeological evidence that the area was inhabited until 54 A.D. when the Romans arrived and built a fort on the River Taff.  They did not leave the area until around 400 A.D.  At this time, the history of the area fell into obscurity once again.  Historical evidence begins again by 850 when the Vikings entered the picture.  They took Cardiff to be used as a base during their attacks on the Welsh coast and later transformed the city into a port. 

In 1091, the earliest parts of Cardiff Castle were built from the ruins of the old Roman fort by Robert Fitzhamon and a small town made up of English settlers began to grow around the castle.  After Fitzhamon’s death, his daughter Mabel came to the castle and lived there with her husband Robert, the 1st Earl of Gloucester who was the illegitimate son of King Henry I.  At this time, a stone keep was built in order to imprison King Henry’s older brother Robert II, Duke of Normandy by the King’s command. 

In 1183, Cardiff Castle was inherited by Prince John who had married Isabel of Gloucester at a time when there was no male heir for the castle to be passed to.  John and Isabel were divorced and the castle passed to her second husband.

By the mid 14th century, Cardiff was a thriving community and a staple port with weekly markets and annual fairs.  Over the years, Cardiff did not grow as quickly as other Welsh cities despite the addition of a racetrack, stagecoach, bank, coffee room, and printing press.  However, at the beginning of the 19th century “modern Cardiff” began to be built which included docks, a boat service, and a gas works.  The town began to grow at a fast pace and was soon a major port for coal export.  By the end of the century, Cardiff was the largest town in Wales, the host of a steelworks factory, and the site for the new University College South Wales and Monmouthshire. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, the town became a city and received a Roman Catholic Cathedral as well as several museums and institutions.  The Great Depression era and a loss in demand for Welsh coal saw a decline in the Cardiff economy.  The city was also bombed during the Cardiff Blitz in World War II.  However, in 1955, this survivor city was named the capital of Wales.

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