Castles: the architectural gems of North Wales

It’s safe to say North Wales is one of the UK’s tourism hotspots. From the charming villages of Llangollen and Ruthin to beautiful coastal hideaways like Portmeirion and Llandudno, the region has plenty to offer intrigued visitors from all over the world. One of North Wales’ biggest draws, however, is undoubtedly its collection of historical castles.

Merseyside certainly has many great examples of architecture from a range of periods, but only by crossing the border into Wales can the North West’s residents see such an impressive selection of castles. Here are just a few of the most famous:

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle, as its name suggests, is located in Conwy on the north coast of Wales. Like many of the region’s historic fortresses, it dates back to the medieval era and has even been highlighted by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as one of Europe’s best examples of military architecture from the late 13th Century. As one of the organisation’s designated World Heritage Sites, it draws crowds from far and wide every year.

The rectangular castle was built on a coastal ridge using imported stone and initially overlooked a significant crossing point on the River Conwy. As with a number of North Wales’ other military buildings, Conwy Castle’s design shows channels inspiration from the kingdom of Savoy and one of its most prominent architects, James of Saint George.

Caernarfon Castle

Located in Wales’ north-west, Caernarfon Castle was erected in 1283 when King Edward I decided to replace the existing motte-and-bailey castle with a new stone structure. With its ideal location in Gwynedd, the fortress – and its surrounding town – acted as an administrative centre for the region, which meant that its defences were constructed on a particularly grand scale. The building’s design has a number of links to the area’s Roman history; its ramparts, for example, show the obvious inspiration provided by the Walls of Constantinople.

Gwynedd’s famous building is also recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, coming under ‘Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd’.

Penrhyn Castle

Also located in Gwynedd, but this time in Llandegai, Penrhyn Castle is a country house in the form of a Norman fortress. Originally established by Ednyfed Fychan as a fortified manor house, it was later transformed with the addition of a tower house and eventually reconstructed by Samuel Wyatt in the 1780s.

In the early-mid 1800s, the building seen today was constructed using designs created by Thomas Hopper. Hopper extended the castle significantly, transforming it almost beyond recognition. Today, it is seen by many as one of the UK’s most impressive examples of mock Norman architecture.

The cost of Penrhyn Castle’s construction is often the subject of debate. While an accurate figure is difficult to work out as many of the materials were sourced from nearby forestry, it has been estimated that the total cost could have run to around £150,000 – which, in today’s money, would be nearing £50,000,000.

These are just three stunning examples of military architecture in North Wales, and others, such as Harlech Castle, can be found spread across the region.

Posted by Adam Lloyd
December 4, 2013
Features

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