Standing in the turret atop King’s Tower, one has a bird’s-eye view of the medieval walled town of Conwy. The tower is one of eight in Conwy Castle, which dominates the landscape on the River Conwy in north Wales.
King Edward I of England built the castle in the 13th century after subduing the Welsh, who took refuge in the nearby mountains of Snowdonia. Conwy Castle was part of a ring of four fortresses surrounding this homeland to Welsh nationalism. All are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which are legally protected landmarks or areas of cultural, historic or scientific importance.
Edward picked the rocky site for defensive purposes that could be resupplied by sea. He also chose the location because it was of cultural significance to the Welsh. Many rulers of Wales were buried here in the Cistercian Aberconwy Abbey of St. Mary.
The king had the monks and abbey relocated in the south, and the Cistercians brought the remains of the first prince of Wales, Llywelyn the Great, with them. Visitors can see the original walls of the abbey church on the east and west sides of what now is the parish church. It is the oldest building in Conwy.
Extending from the castle, a wall surrounds the city for almost three-quarters of a mile. After the castle was built, Conwy grew into a merchant town. Aberconwy House is a window into a 14th-century merchant’s home.
Two centuries later, the town was in its golden age. Welsh tradesman Robert Wynn built Plas Mawr to show off his wealth and royal lineage. Upon entering the Elizabethan town home, said to be the finest existing in Britain, visitors can dress up as rich townspeople. An assortment of period clothing is available for photo ops.
The Flemish-style architecture of Plas Mawr, or “great hall” in English, shows the influence European travel had on Wynn. Numerous sculpted plaster walls and ceilings reflect his heritage.
One of the most ornately decorated rooms is the Great Chamber, the family’s main living and dining room. Its plaster designs are painted red, green, blue and gold. A Tudor rose, a red flower with a white rose center, takes center place over the fireplace. It represents the union of the Houses of York and Lancaster after the War of the Roses when the Welsh Tudors rose to power under Henry VII.
Conwy’s well-preserved historic sites offer a look into the many layers of Welsh history. With a little imagination, one can travel 400 years in a day.
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