Official capital of Wales since only 1955 (hence the annoyingly
ubiquitous "Europe's Youngest Capital" slogan), the
buoyant city of CARDIFF (Caerdydd) has swiftly grown into
its new status. A number of progressive developments, not least
the new, sixty-member Welsh National Assembly, are giving the
city the feel of an international capital, if not always a very
Welsh one: compared with Swansea, Cardiff is very anglicized
- you'll rarely hear Welsh on the city's streets.
The second Marquis of Bute
built Cardiff's first dock in 1839, opening others in swift succession.
The Butes, who owned massive swathes of the rapidly industrializing
insisted that all coal and iron exports use the family docks
in Cardiff, and it became one of the busiest ports in the world.
In the hundred years up to the turn of the twentieth century,
Cardiff's population had soared from almost nothing to 170,000,
and the spacious and ambitious new civic centre in Cathays Park
was well under way. The twentieth century saw varying fortunes:
the dock trade slumped in the 1930s and the city suffered heavy
bombing in World War II, but with the creation of Cardiff as
capital in 1955, optimism and confidence in the city have blossomed.
Many large governmental and media institutions have moved here
from London, and the development of the dock areas around the
new Assembly building to be built in Cardiff Bay has given a
largely positive boost to the cityscape .
Cardiff's sights are clustered
around fairly small, distinct districts. The compact commercial
centre is bounded by the River Taff , which flows past the tremendous
new Millennium Stadium , inaugurated for the 1999 Rugby World
Cup. In this rugby-mad city, the atmosphere in the pubs and streets
when Wales have a home match - particularly against the old enemy,
England - is charged with good-natured, beery fervour. Just upstream,
the Taff is flanked by the wall of Cardiff's extraordinary castle
, an amalgam of Roman remains, Norman keep and Victorian fantasy.
North of the castle is a series of white Edwardian buildings
grouped around Cathays Park : the City Hall, Cardiff University and the superb National Museum
. A mile south of the commercial centre, the area around Cardiff
Bay is striving to become one of the city's liveliest quarters,
home to the new National Assembly of Wales and a welter of new
waterfront developments which make it an ideal place for eating,
drinking or just ambling about. A couple of miles north of the
city centre, Llandaff Cathedral warrants a visit for its strange
clash of Norman and modern styles.