Cardiff, Caerdydd in Welsh, is Europe's youngest capital city, gaining its recognition as recently as 1955. Cardiff's youth as a capital belies its history, however, which dates back to AD75 when the Romans established a fort there.
Evidence of human settlement in Wales dates back almost 200,000 years. The European Celts arrived in the 6th Century BC, who were joined first by the Romans and then the Irish pirates and Scots. Christianity came to Wales in the 5th Century AD, and Irish monk Dewi -- Anglicised to David -- became patron saint of Wales.
The first written record of Cardiff is in 445's Annales Cambriae (The Welsh Annals). In 850, the Vikings paid a little bloody visit and in 1081 William the Conqueror ventured there, though his efforts were concentrated on the English side of the border where he established a wall of powerful feudal barons.
In 1201 Llewelyn the Great made the oldest surviving treaty with England's King John, recognising Wales as an independent state. Llewelyn the Last was recognised as the first Prince of Wales in 1267, but when Henry III was succeeded by Edward I, the latter bestowed the title upon his first born son, setting a precident that continues today. Edward I continued to exercise his might by constructing massive castles and sending out English colonialists to establish boroughs and counties, based on the English system.
In 1400, Owain Glyndwr made the Welsh's last stand against the English and laid claim to the principality as a descendent of the Princess of Northern Powys. His rebellion was crushed by Henry IV, who imposed severe punishment on the Welsh and a general dislike for the English endures to today. Still, in 1404, Glyndwr summoned his first Welsh Parliament.
In 1536 Welsh Law was aligned with English Law in the 1st Act of Union, and English became the official language. Six years later, Thomas Capper became the first Welsh martyr when he was burnt at the stake for herecy. Also that year, in the 2nd Act of Union, Wales was divided into shires to be administered by the Council of Wales. It was not all doom and gloom in the 1500s, however, in 1581 Elizabeth I granted Cardiff its first Royal Charter.
Fast forward to the 1700's and the Industrial Revolution (1730's), that was kicked off just over the border in England with the Iron Bridge. The Welsh Valleys, inland from Cardiff, were rich in coal, copper, slate and tin and people moved into Wales to mine. The country suddenly urbanised and nonconformism, nationalism, trade unionism, liberalism and support of the Labour party flourised... in parallel with the Welsh (Methodist) Revival.
In 1794 the canal link between Cardiff and the Valleys was completed, and in the 1800's Cardiff began to establish itself as a port. The Marquis of Bute (who is now immortalised by Bute Square, Bute Terrace and Bute Street in the City Centre) opened the first dock in 1839 and the rail line to the Valleys was constructed between 1845 and 1850, when the city's population reached 30,000.
Cardiff Castle was built by the Normans, and in 1868 William Burgess began remodelling it. The castle is a composite of several building periods causing many to mistakenly claim it as not being an official castle. To my mind, the biggest argument would rather be that it was merely a little hut atop a tiny mound with a paddling pool around it. But that's just me.
These days Cardiff is synonymous with rugby. The Cardiff Rugby Club was founded in 1876 and the first stand at Cardiff Arms Park opened 9 years later. In 1999 Cardiff Arms Park was replaced by the Millenium Stadium, where the first indoor rugby game was played during the 1999 World Cup (the staduim has a retractable roof). The stadium is ironically the current home ground for England Football (Soccer), owing to the closure and uncertain future of Wembley Stadium.
Into the 20th Century and finally, in 1905, Cardiff is awarded city status. The gorgeous Civic buildings, sandwiched between the castle and the university, were constructed between 1906 and 1938. In 1911 the population of Cardiff hit 182,000. Two years later, a record 10.5 million tonnes of coal was shifted from her docks. By 1931 the population had grown another 25% to 227,000.
Welsh nationalism was on the increase in the 20th Century, with Welsh being recognised as a second official language in 1942. It wasn't until September 19, 1997 though that a referendum was held for the establishment of the Welsh National Assembly. Elections were held on May 6, 1999 and later that month on May 26, 1999, Elizabeth II opened the National Assembly.
Cardiff has an International Airport, but it's not as glamorous as it sounds. It's mainly used for holiday charter flights, and the occasional flight to Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Belfast, Brussels, the Channel Islands, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Isle of Man, Manchester and Paris. You're better off flying into London and catching the train. The trip from London's Paddington Station to Cardiff's Central Station takes less than two hours, and you're deposited in the city centre. National Express coaches will link you to any city in the UK, but the bus takes forever.
If you're adventurous enough to hire a car and hit the UK motorways, then ha ha fool, try your luck on the M4, cross the lovely suspension bridge across the Bristol Channel and follow the sign posts. (Just watch out for the Welsh, trust me it will confuse you.)
Present-day Cardiff is a university town with an aging city centre and a brand new (redeveloped) docklands, called Cardiff Bay. It's a shopper's dream, with more retail space per head than most cities in the United Kingdom. The abundance of student life means that cheap meals and dodgy drinking holes are easy to come by.
With Wembley's demise, Saturdays in Cardiff are absolutely manic in late autumn as the FA Cup and all English League (soccer) play-offs are hosted at the Millenium Stadium on successive weekends. More usually, however, rugby is the name of the game at the Stadium and sell-out crowds are common place in the November/December international season, or during the Six Nations.
Lonely Planet says that Cardiff is generally 5-10% cheaper than most UK cities, but recommends a budget of US$60 per day, if you're staying in Bed & Breakfasts, having one sit-down meal a day and visiting all the touristy spots.
Cardiff in the Future
Cardiff is bidding for European City of Culture 2008. Two main projects will back that bid: the ULTra light rail cab and the redevelopment of the City Centre in the expansion of the St David's Centre shopping mall.
Currently, shoppers paradise is the 1970's pedestrian street, Queen Street Mall, with the newish Capitol centre at the Queen Street Station end and the older St David's Centre on the Castle end. Further south, towards Central Station, the city is a little older and a bit of a shrine to concrete and multi-storey car parks.
Proposals for the redevelopment of this section include pedestrianising The Hayes into a glass-roofed avenue, opening up on a new 1,000,000 ft2 retail development with basement car parks. The existing library will be demolished and replaced. The Ice Rink will disappear, but the new development will be linked to the Cardiff International Arena, which hosts most of the bands that visit the city.
The ULTra scheme is pioneered by the Cardiff City Council. Based on a light rail/tram concept, the vehicles are "pods" which seat 4-6 people. The ULTra will be like a taxi on rails, where users go to the nearest stop, press a button which calls the nearest one. They get in, program in their destination stop, and hey presto! they are carried there via the quickest route. The ULTra will initially link the City Centre to the Cardiff Bay docklands development.
fondue has asked me to mention that the ULTra is a complete waste of money. However, me being a Traffic Engineer, has a different perspective: The ULTra is a world first and the design has been patented. The Cardiff City Council plan to sell it off to all the world cities for their copycat schemes once Cardiff wins the European City of Culture and you all flock there in your droves.
Teiresias points out that the Cardiff Rugby Club has the largeest membership of all rugby clubs in the country (Wales mister Teiresias, or the United Kingdom?), which may or may not be related to the fact that you need to be a member to be able to drink at the bar. He further points out the irony of Bute Square being named after the Marquess and its present day use as the red light district.