Culture Magazine

Cardiff Castle

By Carolineld @carolineld
While Cardiff Castle is rich in history including parts of its Roman wall and a genuine medieval keep, what makes it extraordinary is the nineteenth-century transformation of its lodgings. The third Marquess of Bute worked with architect William Burges to remodel his apartments into a series of remarkable themed rooms. 

Cardiff Castle

Arab Room

The Second Marquess had considered the island of Bute as his home, and kept only a skeleton staff at Cardiff Castle. (One occasion upon which he did visit the castle was during the Merthyr Rising, which notoriously ended with the state hanging miner Dic Penderyn for a stabbing he did not commit.) However, his son was very unhappy at its condition, considering it to have become mediocre and far from true to its medieval origins. He therefore decided upon a major remodelling project which began as soon as he came of age in 1866. 
Cardiff Castle

At the time, the Marquess was reputedly one of the richest men in the world. His father had transformed Cardiff into the world's leading coal-exporting port, and in the process increased the value of his mining interests in South Wales. That wealth was essential to realising the shared vision of the third Marquess and his architect: Burges's first major project, Cork Cathedral, had cost £100,000 despite an original budget of £15,000.
Cardiff Castle

Burges had traveled extensively through Europe and to Sicily and Turkey. The latter had a profound influence upon him - as is most apparent in the Castle's Arab Room. His enthusiasm for Moorish architecture was part of an overwhelming love of the medieval - a love shared by the Marquess, who became his greatest patron. 
Cardiff Castle

The Marquess was more than an employer and source of finance, becoming personally involved in the project. He contributed research into the history of the castle as well as an enthusiasm for the Gothic Revival.
Cardiff Castle

As an art-architect, Burges was responsible for all aspect of the building including the details of decoration and furnishing. He had his own team of gifted artists and craftspeople. This approach worked to magnificent effect in the Castle, but some of his employers were less patient, enthusiastic or extravagant than the Marquess of Bute. Burges was sacked from Knightshayes Court before the interior was complete because its owner, Sir John Heathcoat-Amory, objected to both cost and style and replaced him with the more restrained Crace. Similarly, Burges was employed as architect at St Paul's Cathedral for five years but his designs for the interior were so controversial that he was sacked and they were not executed. 
Cardiff Castle

Burges would not live to see this enormous project completed, dying in 1881 aged only 53. However, he had achieved a great deal in his life: while Cardiff Castle is perhaps his finest achievement, other works included Castell Coch, Knightshayes Court, St Fin Barre's Cathedral in Cork, and several churches. He also contributed to the Mediaeval Court at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Cardiff Castle

The Marquess was a linguist, so these figures over the library fireplace represent alphabets including Greek, Hebrew, Assyrian and hieroglyphic. The right-hand figure, with his Celtic runes, is supposed to depict the Marquess himself. He would return the favour, adding Burges's name to the Arab Room fireplace after the architect's death. 
Cardiff Castle

The Marquess died in 1900. Although his son completed work on the castle, including the reconstruction of the Roman wall, the family now had few business interests in Wales and spent less time there. On the fourth Marquess's death, the castle was given to the City of Cardiff.
Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle

Practical information: Cardiff Castle is open to the public daily. For times and admissions, click here. I would highly recommend the premium ticket, which includes an excellent guided tour of the apartments. 

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