Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Top Tourist Attractions

Caernarfon Castle – often anglicised as Carnarvon Castle or Caernarvon Castle – is a medieval fortress in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, north-west Wales cared for by Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environment service. Royal fortress-palace built on legends and bitter medieval conflict Caernarfon Castle is recognised around the world as one of the greatest buildings of the Middle Ages.

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle, the Royal fortress-palace built on legends and bitter medieval conflict, is located in North Wales and was first built in 1283 CE by Edward I of England (r. 1272-1307 CE). Caernarfon Castle is recognized around the world as one of the greatest buildings of the Middle Ages. This fortress-palace on the banks of the River Seiont has grouped with Edward I’s other castles at Conwy, Beaumaris, and Harlech as a World Heritage Site. Edward and his military architect Master James of St George erected a castle, town walls, and a quay all at the same time. This gigantic building project eventually took 47 years and cost a staggering £25,000. Caernarfon Castle has been the property of the Crown since it was built, it is currently cared for by Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environment division, responsible for the maintenance and care of Wales' historic buildings. Let’s see some of the features of this wonderful castle:

  1. An Unusual Hourglass Design

The design of Caernarfon Castle is a little unusual when compared to other castles in the region. It is best to imagine the structure as a figure of eight; at the middle of the castle, the walls narrow into each other, effectively forming two large and symmetrical courtyards. Surrounding the central courtyards are thick, reinforced walls on all sides. The walls extend back from the bay, and wrap around the old town of Caernarfon, meaning the whole place is securely held within the stone castle.

  1. The Mightiest of the Iron Ring

Edward I of England was ferocious and wanted to conquer independent Wales, which he finally did in 1282 when he defeated the last Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. He then defined his power by taking various Welsh castles for his own, restoring old ones, and building new ones. Caernarfon was the most ambitious of the new ones, making it the mightiest of what was dubbed the ‘Iron Ring’, a series of huge fortresses in North Wales that was seen as one of the biggest and best medieval building projects.

  1. Dominating Octagonal Towers

One of Caernarfon Castle’s appealing characteristics is its 12 octagonal towers. The style of the towers is different from the others in the area built by Edward I and was much harder to build. It is thought the design was chosen to evoke Constantinople, what is now Istanbul in Turkey, and even used multicolored stone to mirror the Byzantine city. The towers are large; the Eagle Tower measures 10m across at the base.

  1. The Curtain Walls

The castle's curtain or bailey walls enclose two bailey courtyards (aka wards), the lower and the upper bailey. Four of the 12 towers built into the curtain wall contained accommodation on different floors, a necessity for the 350 or so servants who would have been employed in the castle.

The Queen's Tower was originally known as the Banner Tower because it has the highest turret in the castle and this was where the flag was raised. The Cistern Tower on the south side was built to collect rainwater into a stone-lined tank. The Well Tower contained a 15-meter (50 ft.) deep well. The lower bailey, for example, contained the Great Hall which measured an impressive 30.5 meters (100 ft.) in length and which was connected to the Chamberlain Tower. 

  1. The Eagle Tower

The castle keep is the Eagle Tower which was begun c. 1283 CE and completed c. 1317 CE. The Eagle Tower, with its three great turrets and 18-feet thick walls, is the crowning glory of Caernarfon Castle. It was here that the most illustrious residents of the royal palace would sleep in lofty splendor. It dominates the castle with its three mighty turrets and received its name from the stone carving of an eagle attached to one of those turrets. The tower has three floors and a basement which originally allowed access from the river via a double doorway with portcullis. A spiral staircase gives access to the various floors. The tower likely contained the private chambers of whoever was the most senior resident in the castle at the time. The tower has a postern gate (also with a portcullis) giving access to the inner bailey.

  1. Mighty Gatehouses

Caernarfon Castle can only be entered through one of two gatehouses, the King’s Gate which faces the town, and the Queen’s Gate, which faces the sea.

The King’s gate was built with holes and slots, for pouring boiling oil and water over people trying to enter and shooting arrows from. In its glory days, the gatehouse would have contained more than four doors and five different portcullises. There were also four guardhouses and machicolations.

The second major gate of the castle was the Queen's Gate, also not finished and now with its doorway halfway up the wall because the original approach ramp and steps have been removed. The Queen’s Gate was mostly used for unloading supplies from ships.

  1. The Town Walls

The castle protected a significant nearby settlement which was given additional security via enclosing walls. This stone wall had eight towers, two gateways and essentially fortified the town against the ever-present threat of raids. The walls also included a wooden quay, a west, and an east gatehouse, and Saint Mary's Chapel.

  1. The Museum of Royal Welsh Fusiliers

The Museum is housed in two towers of Caernarfon Castle. In it, you will find a wealth of original exhibits, supported by film, sound, and models, which tell the story of over 300 years of service by Wales' oldest infantry regiment, in peacetime, and in war, all around the world. The exhibition explores the long history of the Welsh Fusiliers regiment, with uniforms, guns, medals, and memorabilia on display.

  1. The Place of the Prince of Wales ‘Coronation’

The UK still has a Prince of Wales, namely Prince Charles, and the investiture, or ‘coronation’ which is the ceremony that gives the Princes his official title, took place at Caernarfon Castle in 1969, and where Edward VIII was given his title in 1911. It is more than likely Prince William will be ‘crowned’ Prince of Wales at Caernarfon too!

Caernarfon receives more than 200,000 visitors every year and is filled with atmospheric passages and spiral staircase towers – amazing for kids, but less fun for those with disabilities.

The castle has a shop, and there are some decent pubs in the town for food. The castle itself – positioned in front of the town, as if to defend it – is huge, impressively restored, and is resultantly a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even more, a reason to visit and experience this amazing place.