Conwy Castle, North Wales

This impressive and magnificent fortress, built at the same time as the town walls to complete the defence system of Conwy, was completed in just five years during the latter part of 13th century. One of Edward I's great Welsh castles, this represents an outstanding example of military medieval architecture.

The irregular shape of Conwy Castle follows the natural lines of the rock base upon which it is built. Conwy castle, with its eight mighty, round towers, is not concentric and has no gatehouse or keep. A 30ft (10m) high curtain wall surrounds both the baileys, along which the eight towers are located, one at each corner, one at either end of the wall separating the two baileys, and another along each of the two lengths of wall of the larger outer bailey.

Along the north curtain wall, the towers are of equally spaced, creating three similar sections of wall. The four towers surrounding the eastern inner bailey differ from the others as they have a turret at the top, thereby reflecting the division of accommodation between the two baileys. The eastern inner bailey, accessed directly by water, provided living quarters for royalty occupying the southern and eastern sides of the bailey - including the King's Chamber and the King's Hall.

Fronted by three open turrets, the east Barbican protected the gate to the inner ward. Located within the Barbican are the stairs leading to the Watergate, which no longer exists. The towers adjoining the Barbican could be accessed via flights of stairs leading up through the thickness of the east curtain wall. To the south, the King's Tower still displays a hooded fireplace, strangely clinging to the wall where the first floor would have been. On the first floor of the Chapel Tower, there is a wonderful chancel created within the thickness of the tower wall.

Only one of the eight towers has suffered damage, through partial collapse, and that is the Bakehouse Tower. Other towers are the Kitchen Tower, the Prison Tower (housing the castle dungeon), and the Northwest and Southwest Towers, accessible today via the newel staircases that have been reconstructed. Adjacent to the Prison Tower, stands the remarkably well-preserved Great Hall, containing three fireplaces, one of which is elaborately moulded, and dates from the mid 13th century. The roof of the hall was originally timber, but was replaced in the 14th century and one of the eight stone arches has survived. Apart from the Great Hall, all other internal buildings of Conwy Castle are ruinous. When first constructed, this relatively simple, yet imposing, castle cost in the region of 20,000 to build, being the most costly of all the Welsh castles.

Conwy Castle was used by Edward I as his operational base during the Autumn of 1294 when Madog led a rebellion against English rule in North Wales. At the end of the year, the King was effectively beseiged in Conwy, due to rising water and a lack of food supplies, but the castle did not come under attack. During the long periods of neglect Conwy Castle fell into a state of decay, and further damage was suffered at the time of the Civil War. By 1655 the order was issued for Conwy Castle to be slighted, and ten years later Lord Conwy had arranged for the castle to be stripped of valuable materials. It then withstood the ravages of nature for a further two hundred years before restoration work was eventually undertaken to preserve the castle.

The significance of Conwy Castle in medieval times is reflected not only by its splendid castle, but also the extensive system of walls encircling the town - in total some 1400 yards (1273m) long, with 21 of the original 22 towers still in place, and three of the town gates surviving. From wherever Conwy Castle is viewed, even today it presents an awesome image of power and stability as it dominates the town of Conwy.


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