Caernarfon, in northwest Wales, lies at a strategic point on the southern end
of the Menai Straits, which separate Anglesey from the mainland. A vibrant
stronghold of Welsh culture and language, Caernarfon's history stretches
back further even than most "ancient" towns and villages. In fact, Caernarfon
has been continuously inhabited since before Roman times. To this day the town
is still presided over by an ancient Roman fortress. Segontium, which was
occupied for almost 40 years from A.D. 78, was the Roman Empire's westernmost
But Caernarfon is perhaps best known for a different, though no less picturesque
fortress, which was the site of the investiture of Prince Charles as the current
Prince of Wales in 1969. The 21-year-old prince stood within the magnificent
medieval walls of Caernarfon Castle at the mouth of the Seiont River, as his
mother, Queen Elizabeth II, invested him Prince of Wales. It was an ancient rite
in a truly modern age, as images of the ceremony were broadcast around the world.
The English royal tradition actually dates to the 13th century. In 1277 King
Edward I and his English armies invaded the neighboring principality of Wales,
defeating the forces of Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd. To mark out the perimeter
of his conquests, Edward went on to erect a series of castles throughout Wales.
At Caernarfon, Edward began to build the mighty fortified palace we see today, with
its polygonal towers and colorful stone walls. He hoped it would reflect the awe
of Constantinople, then the center of Roman empirical power. Edward's son, who
would eventually rule as Edward II, was born in Caernarfon Castle in 1284, his
father creating him the first English prince of Wales. And from that time on,
the title has been bestowed by the monarch upon male heirs to the English throne.
Also housed within Caernarfon Castle is the museum of the Royal Welsh
Fusiliers, Wales' oldest infantry regiment. In continuous service to Great
Britain since their founding in 1689, the Fusiliers have been in nearly
every campaign involving the British army for the past 300 years. In World
War I, nearly 10,000 Fusiliers gave their lives. Among those who survived
were the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves. It was Sassoon who
penned the lines that capture so well the bitter ironies of warfare and
"You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
who cheer when soldier lads march by.
Sneak home, and pray you'll never know
the hell where youth and laughter go."
Despite its martial heritage, Caernarfon today is a peaceful, albeit bustling,
market town, government center and popular tourist destination where visitors
can experience one of Wales' most historic places set against a backdrop of
great natural beauty.
To learn more about Caernarfon, visit: www.betws.org.uk/tosee/towns/caernarfon.htm and theheritagetrail.co.uk/castles/caernarfon castle.htm.