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Caernarfon from Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon shown within Gwynedd
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Caernarfon (//; Welsh: [kaɨrˈnarvɔn]) is a royal town, community and port in Gwynedd, Wales, with a population of 9,615; this figure does not include nearby Bontnewydd or Caethro as they are in separate communities. It lies along the A487 road, on the eastern shore of the Menai Straits, opposite the Isle of Anglesey. The city of Bangor is 8.6 miles (13.8 km) to the north-east, while Snowdonia fringes Caernarfon to the east and south-east. Carnarvon and Caernarvon are Anglicised spellings that were superseded in 1926 and 1974 respectively.
Abundant natural resources in and around the Menai Straits enabled human habitation in the area during pre-history. The Ordovices, a Celtic tribe, lived in the region during classical antiquity. The Roman fort, Segontium was established in about 80AD to subjugate the Ordovices during the Roman conquest of Britain. The Romans and occupied the region until their departure in the 5th century, after which Caernarfon became part of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. In the late 11th century, William I, King of England, ordered the construction of a motte-and-bailey fortification at Caernarfon, to attempt the Norman invasion of Wales. He was unsuccessful and most of Wales remained independent until 1282-3.
In the 13th century, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, ruler of Gwynedd, refused to pay homage to Edward I, King of England prompting the English conquest of Gwynedd, and subsequent construction of Caernarfon Castle, one of the largest and most imposing fortifications built by the English to control Wales. In 1284 the English-style county of Caernarfonshire was established (Statute of Rhuddlan), composed of Caernarfon (the new county town) and its hinterland; and in 1284 Caernarfon was made a borough and market town, and the seat of Edward I's government in North Wales.
The ascent of the Tudor dynasty to the throne of England eased hostilities between the English and resulted in Caernarfon Castle falling into a state of disrepair. Caernarfon continued to flourish, leading to its status as a major tourist centre and seat of Gwynedd Council, with a thriving harbour and marina; Caernarfon has expanded beyond its medieval walls and experienced heavy suburbanisation. Its population includes the largest percentage of Welsh-speaking citizens anywhere in Wales. The status of Royal Borough was granted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1963, and converted into the title of Royal Town in 1974.
Caernarfon derives its name from the Roman fortifications. In Welsh, the place was called "y gaer yn Arfon", meaning "the stronghold in the land over against Môn"; Môn is the Welsh name of the island of Anglesey.
In 1221, a charter granted to the canons of Penmon priory, in Anglesey, by Llywelyn the Great, refers to Kaerinarfon , and Brut y Tywysogion uses the forms Kaerenarvon and Caerenarvon. An early alternative name was Caer Seiont. It is called Caer Aber Sei(o)n(t) ("the fort on the estuary of the river Seiont") in the medieval Welsh tale Breuddwyd Macsen ("Macsen's Dream"), and was also known as Caer Gystennin ("The Castle of Constantin").
Caernarfon is the county town of the historic county of Caernarfonshire. It is best known for the great stone-built Caernarfon Castle, built by Edward I, King of England and consequently sometimes seen as a symbol of English domination. Edward's architect, James of St. George, may well have modelled the castle on the walls of Constantinople, possibly being aware of the alternative Welsh name Caer Gystennin; in addition, Edward was a supporter of the Crusader cause. On higher ground on the outskirts of the town are the remains of an earlier occupation, the Segontium Roman Fort.
Caernarfon was constituted a borough in 1284 by charter of Edward I. The charter, which was confirmed on a number of occasions, appointed the mayor of the borough Constable of the Castle ex officio. The former municipal borough was designated a royal borough in 1963. The borough was abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in 1974, and the status of "royal town" was granted to the community which succeeded it.
In 1911, David Lloyd George, then Member of Parliament for Caernarfon boroughs, which included various towns from Llŷn to Conwy, agreed to the British Royal family's idea of holding the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. The ceremony took place on 13 July, with the royal family paying a rare visit to Wales, and the future King Edward VIII was duly invested.
In 1955 Caernarfon was in the running for the title of Capital of Wales on historical grounds but the town's campaign was heavily defeated in a ballot of Welsh local authorities, with 11 votes compared to Cardiff's 136. Cardiff therefore became the Welsh capital.
On 1 July 1969 the investiture ceremony for Charles, Prince of Wales was again held at Caernarfon Castle. The ceremony itself went ahead without incident despite terrorist threats and protests, which culminated in the death of two members of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Welsh Defence Movement), Alwyn Jones and George Taylor, who were killed when their bomb – intended for the railway line at Abergele in order to stop the British Royal Train – exploded prematurely. The bomb campaign (one in Abergele, two in Caernarfon and finally one on Llandudno Pier) was organised by the leader of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru, John Jenkins. He was later arrested after a tip-off and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment.
The history of Caernarfon as an example where the rise and fall of different civilizations can be seen from one hilltop, are discussed in John Michael Greer's book 'The Long Descent'. He writes the Welsh town of Caernarfon. Spread out below us in an unexpected glory of sunlight was the whole recorded history of that little corner of the world. The ground beneath us still rippled with earthworks from the Celtic hill fort that guarded the Menai Strait more than two and a half millennia ago. The Roman fort that replaced it was now the dim brown mark of an old archeological site on low hills off to the left. Edward I’s great gray castle rose up in the middle foreground, and the high contrails of RAF jets on a training exercise out over the Irish Sea showed that the town’s current overlords still maintained the old watch. Houses and shops from more than half a dozen centuries spread eastward as they rose through the waters of time, from the cramped medieval buildings of the old castle town straight ahead to the gaudy sign and sprawling parking lot of the supermarket back behind us.
Caernarfon is situated on the eastern bank of the Menai Strait facing the Isle of Anglesey. It is situated 8.6 miles (13.8 km) south-west of Bangor, 19.4 miles (31.2 km) north of Porthmadog and approximately 8.0 miles (12.9 km) east of Llanberis and Snowdonia National Park. The mouth of the River Seiont is in the town, creating a natural harbour where it flows into the Menai Strait. Caernarfon Castle stands at the mouth of the river. The A487 passes directly through Caernarfon, with Bangor to the north and Porthmadog to the south. Llanberis at the foot of Snowdon can be reached via the A4086, which heads east out of the town to Capel Curig. Heading north out of the town is the Lôn Las Menai cycle path to nearby Y Felinheli. Heading south out of the town is the Lôn Eifion cycle path, which leads to Bryncir, near Criccieth. The route provides views into the Snowdonia mountains, down along the Llŷn Peninsula and across to the Isle of Anglesey. The Welsh Highland Railway or Rheilffordd Eryri, a narrow gauge heritage railway, was restored in 2011 and runs from Caernarfon to Porthmadog where it connects with the Festiniog Railway.
Caernarfon's historical prominence and landmarks have made it a major tourist centre. As a result many of the local businesses cater for the tourist trade. Caernarfon is home to numerous guest houses, inns and pubs, hotels, restaurants and shops. The majority of shops in the town are located either in the centre of town around Pool Street and Castle Square (Maes), or on Doc Fictoria. A number of shops are also located within the Town Walls.
The majority of the retail and residential section of Doc Fictoria (Victoria Dock) was opened in 2008. The retail and residential section of Doc Fictoria is built directly beside a Blue Flag beach marina. It contains numerous homes, bars and bistros, cafés and restaurants, an award- winning arts centre, a maritime museum and a range of shops and stores.
Pool Street and Castle Square (Maes) contain a number of large, national retail shops and smaller independent stores. Pool Street is a pedestrianised street and, as such, serves as the town's main shopping street. Castle Square, commonly referred to as the 'Maes' by both Welsh and English speakers, is the market square of the town. A market is held every Saturday throughout the year and also on Mondays in the Summer. The square was revamped at a cost of £2.4 million in 2009. However, since its revamp the square has caused controversy due to traffic and parking difficulties. During the revamp, it was decided to remove barriers between traffic and pedestrians creating a 'shared space', to try and force road users[clarification needed] to be more considerate of pedestrians and other vehicles. This is the first use of this kind of arrangement in Wales, but it has been described by councillor Bob Anderson as being 'too ambiguous' for road users. Another controversy caused by the revamp of the Maes was that a historic feature of the town was taken down, namely a very old oak tree, situated outside the HSBC bank. When the Maes was re-opened in July 2009 by the local politician and Heritage Minister of Wales, Alun Ffred Jones AM, he said, "the use of beautiful local slate is very prominent in the new Maes."
There are many old public houses serving the town, including The Four Alls, The Anglesey Arms Hotel, The Castle Hotel, The Crown, Morgan Lloyd, Pen Deitch and The Twthill Vaults. The oldest public house in Caernarfon is the Black Boy Inn, which remained in the same family for over 40 years until sold in 2003 to a local independent family business. The pub has stood inside Caernarfon's Town Walls since the 16th century, and many ghosts have been sighted within the building.
In and around the Town Walls are numerous restaurants, public houses and inns, and guest houses and hostels.
Gwynedd Council's head offices are situated in the town. The local court serves the town and the rest of north-west Wales, and in 2009 moved to a multi-million pound court complex on Llanberis Road. The Caernarfon UK Parliament constituency was a former electoral area centred on Caernarfon. Caernarfon is now part of the Arfon constituency for both the UK Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The town is twinned with Landerneau in Brittany.
Demographically Gwynedd has the highest proportion of people in Wales who can speak Welsh. The highest proportion of these Welsh speakers are to be found in and around Caernarfon. According to the 2001 Census, 86.1% of the population could speak the Welsh language, with the largest majority of Welsh speakers in the 10-14 age group, where 97.7% could speak it fluently. The town is nowadays a rallying-point for the Welsh nationalist cause.
The population of Caernarfon Community Parish in 2001 was 9,611.
One of the oldest buildings in the town is The Market Hall, which is situated on Hole In The Wall street, or Stryd Twll Yn Wal as it is referred to by Welsh speakers.
The old court buildings, replaced in 2009 by a new complex designed by HOK on the former Segontium School site in Llanberis Road, are situated inside the castle walls, next door to the Anglesey Arms Hotel and to the Gwynedd County Council buildings in Pendeitch. They are grand buildings, especially the exterior of the former magistrates' court, which features a gothic architecture style of decoration. The old buildings adjoin what used to be Caernarfon gaol, which has been closed since about the early 20th century and has now been converted into further council offices.
Caernarfon is also home to the regimental museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers (archaic English spelling of the word Welsh).
The location of the town creates a lovely view across the Afon Menai towards the south of Anglesey.
Previously, Caernarfon had been chosen as the location of a new prison. HMP Caernarfon would have held up to 800 adult males when constructed, and would have taken prisoners from all over the North Wales area. However, in September 2009 the UK Government withdrew plans to construct the prison.
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Caernarvon railway station served the town from 1852 to 1970 and was one of the last passenger services to be closed under the Beeching Axe; it is now the site of a Morrisons supermarket. The site served as the terminus of the Bangor and Carnarvon Railway, and an end-on junction with the Carnarvonshire Railway and the Carnarvon and Llanberis Railway. All three companies were operated by and absorbed into the London and North Western Railway by 1871.
The route of the line southwards passed through a tunnel under central Caernarfon that was converted in 1995 for road traffic. The new Caernarfon railway station in St. Helen's Road is the northern terminus of the narrow gauge Rheilffordd Eryri / Welsh Highland Railway.
There are four primary schools in Caernarfon, Ysgol yr Hendre being the largest. The others are Ysgol y Gelli, Ysgol Santes Helen and Ysgol Maesincla.
The single secondary school serving Caernarfon and the surrounding areas – Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen – currently has between 900 and 1000 pupils from ages 11 to 18.
Ysgol Pendalar, a school for children with special needs, serves all of Arfon.
Caernarfon hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1862, 1894, 1906, 1921, 1935, 1959 and 1979. Unofficial National Eisteddfod events were also held there in 1877 and 1880. Caernarfon also hosted the 30th annual Celtic Media Festival in March 2009.
Cultural destinations include Galeri, Bocs and Oriel Pendeitsh.
Galeri is a creative enterprise centre that houses a gallery, a concert hall, cinema, a number of companies, and a range of other creative and cultural spaces.
Bocs is a young artists' co-operative and an arts centre that holds exhibitions and a range of cultural and creative events.
Oriel Pendeitsh is a ground-floor exhibition space adjoining the Tourist Information Centre opposite Caernarfon Castle. The gallery has a varied and changing programme of exhibitions throughout the year.
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- Taylor 1997, p. 4
- Thomas Jones (ed.) Brut y Tywysogion[:] Peniarth MS. 20 (Cardiff, 1941). It should however be noted that medieval orthography in every language varies considerably and variant spellings of a name or word often occur in the same manuscript text. Kaerinarfon, Kaerenarvon and Caerenarvon correspond to Caer-yn-Arfon in modern Welsh orthography. The letter "y" would naturally be lost in the spoken language, thus giving the standard Welsh name Caernarfon ("Caer 'n Arfon").
- See Sir Ifor Williams' notes in his edition of Breuddwyd Maxen (Bangor, 1920). The name appears for the first time in the work of Nennius. Pre-conquest medieval Welsh poets such as Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd sometimes use the name Caer Gystennin.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Caernarfon.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Caernarfon.|
- Official Website
- Encyclopaedia Britannica Caernarfon
- Visit to Caernarfon
- Doc Fictoria Caernarfon
- Bocs Arts Centre