It is the largest castle in Wales, covering nearly 30 acres of land, and it is the second largest in the whole of Britain and Ireland. Only Windsor Castle is larger.
The site of the castle was important in Roman Britain, as it sits along one of the main Roman roads between the forts at Cardiff and Gelligaer.
Recognizing the value of the site, Gilbert de Clare, the 7th earl of Gloucester, 6th earl of Hertford, and Lord of Glamorgan, began construction of the castle there in 1268.
De Clare was engaged in a power struggle with Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales. The prince saw the fortified castle as a challenge to his authority and attacked it in 1270, burning portions of the half-built structure, but De Clare immediately began rebuilding and the structure was mostly complete by 1277.
The design of the castle is an example of a medieval concentric walls within walls plan. Castle defenses include a high and massive curtain wall surrounding the inner ward that is surrounded by a lower and lighter outer curtain wall.
The whole structure is also ringed by several artificial lakes that provide an elaborate system of water defenses for the castle. As a fortification, Caerphilly Castle was formidable.
Due to the death of Gilbert de Clare’s heir at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Caerphilly Castle came under royal control until its future could be decided. Three years later the de Clare estates were divided among Gilbert’s three sisters, leading to periods when the castle was varyingly abandoned and inhabited.
The structure had been attacked during the Madog ap Llewelyn revolt of 1294 and was later attacked during the Llywelyn Bren uprising in 1316 and the overthrow of King Edward II in 1326-27. By the late 1400’s, the estate had fallen into decline. Eventually the lakes drained away and the stones of the castle were quarried for buildings elsewhere.
The Marquesses of Bute acquired the property in 1776 and the third and fourth marquesses set about restoring the castle. Between 1928 and 1939, John Crichton Stuart, the fourth marquess had many of the collapsed buildings rebuilt, and he restored and re-landscaped the defense works.
In 1950, the castle and grounds were given to the state and water defenses were re-flooded. Today, the Welsh heritage agency, Cadw, manages and preserves the castle as a tourist attraction.
The castle is such a scenic and appealing place that it has served as a backdrop for TV and film. Most recently several scenes in the third season of the popular BBC series Merlin were filmed at Caerphilly Castle. In the spring and summer seasons, the castle site is open to visitors daily.
The Cadw site indicates that art classes and an annual Easter egg hunt are just two of the types of activities you can enjoy at the castle. The castle is less than half an hour by car or train from Cardiff, the capital and largest city in Wales.
Christy Carlyle is a writer, graphic/web designer, and avid Britophile. She has been lucky enough to live in both England and Ireland and to marry a Scotsman. She writes historical romance and mysteries and blogs about Victorian Britain at Romancing the Victorians.