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Wales is the land of mythical King Arthur, the famous Romano-British leader fighting against the invading Anglo-Saxons. Arthur's fortress, Camelot, is placed by both Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chrétien de Troyes in Caerleon, the site of one of the three Roman legionary forts in Britain (the others being Chester and York). Caerleon incidentally possesses the only surviving Roman barracks in Europe.
In Llangadwaladr lies Britain's oldest royal tombstone, that of Cadfan ap Iago, King of Gwynedd from 616 to 625.
Wales was incorporated to and ruled by England from 1284, and officially annexed to England by the Wales Acts between 1535 and 1542. Since 1301, the Crown Prince of England has been referred to as the Prince of Wales to symbolise this union between the two countries.
The powerful Tudor Dynasty, that ruled England and Ireland from 1485 until 1603, originated in the small Welsh hamlet of Penmynydd on Anglesey.
Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde (c. 1512-1558) invented the equal sign (=), and introduced the plus (+) and minus (-) signs as well as algebra to Britain.
Pembrokeshire-born Bartholomew Roberts is considered the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy, and is thought to have been the first pirate to name his flag "Jolly Roger", in June 1721.
The invention of the world's first mail order is often attributed to the American Aaron Montgomery Ward, who produced his first catalogue in 1872. That was however 11 years after Welsh entrepreneur Pryce Pryce-Jones (1834-1920) launched his own mail order business from Newtown, Montgomeryshire (note the name connection), dispatching by post and rail throughout Europe. By 1880, he had more than 100,000 customers, including Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria and many European royal households.
Lawn tennis was invented in 1873 by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield to entertain his guests at a garden party at Nantclwyd House in Llanelidan, Denbighshire.
Britain's very first lager brewery was opened in Wrexham in 1881 by German immigrants. It remained for a long time the only draught lager served on British ships.
Established in 1894, Spillers Records in Cardiff is today the oldest record in the world as well as the oldest recording business.
In 1900, Britain got its first Labour MP, Keir Hardie, just months after the Australian Labor Party became the world's first elected socialist party. Although a Scotsman, Hardie was elected for the dual-member constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare in the South Wales Valleys.
The world's first Department of International Politics opened at Aberystwyth University in 1919 (in the aftermath of WWI) in an attempt to promote the understanding of the causes of wars and conflicts.
The medieval St Donat's Castle was purchased in 1925 by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst for his mistress, the actress Marion Davies. He spent a fortune renovating the castle and turning it into one of the most lavish residence in the country, entertaining such guests as Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Conan Doyle, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Bob Hope or George Bernard Shaw. Since 1962 the castle has housed the Atlantic College, the first of the United World Colleges.
In the 1970's Hay-on-Wye turned into the world's first Book Town and holds Europe's largest annual second-hand book market.
Land & Nature
The oldest tree in Wales, Llangeryw Yew, is between 4,000 and 5,000 years old.
The Brecon Beacons National Park shelters Europe's largest cave system, Mynydd Llangatwg, Britain's longest and largest showcave, Dan-yr-Ogof, as well as Britain's deepest cave, Ogof Fynnon Ddu (308 m / 1,010 ft).
With a population of 2,000 St David's in Pembrokeshire is the smallest cathedral city in the world. It is also the only city in Britain that lies entirely within a national park.
The Smithfield Livestock Market in Welshpool, Montgomeryshire, is the largest one-day sheep market in Europe.
The Merthyr Mawr Sand Dunes were once the largest dune system in Europe. They were chosen as the shooting location for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is the smallest and only coastal national park in Britain. It comprises Skokholm Island, which was the country's first officially designated bird reserve as well as its first bird observatory (established in 1933). Skokholm, together with neighbouring islands of Skomer and Grasholm, have over 500,000 breeding sea birds, including the largest colony of Manx shearwater in the world (160,000 specimens) and the second largest colony of northern gannets (over 35,000). There are also actively breeding colonies of puffins, cormorants, razorbills, guillemots, as well as grey seals and dolphins.
Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn Waterfall in the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The former Dinorwic Slate Quarry, second only to Penrhyn Quarry.
Mining & Industry
Wales played a pioneering role in the Industrial Revolution - thanks in part to being the richness land in Britain for mining. The Welsh soil has been exploited at least since the Bronze Age, and attracted the Romans to Britain, chiefly for Wales' gold (at Dolaucothi), copper and lead, and Cornwall's tin.
Copper has been mined at Parys Mountain since the early Bronze Age, 4,000 years ago, making it Britain's oldest known mines. In the 18th century, the site became the biggest open-cast copper mine on the planet, as well as the world's first producer of copper. The Great Orme Mines in Llandudno are the only Bronze Age copper mines in the world open to the public.
The Penrhyn Quarry and Oakeley Quarry, both in Gwynedd, were respectively the world's largest slate quarry and the world's largest slate mine at the end of the 19th century. The former was served by the now defunct Penrhyn Quarry Railway, and the latter by the Ffestiniog Railway, which still operates for tourists.
In the 19th century, Merthyr Tydfil was the iron capital of the world. Opened in 1765, the Cyfarthfa Ironworks went on to become the largest ironworks on the face of the globe, before being overtaken in 1865 by the nearby Dowlais Ironworks - the first major ironworks to use the Bessemer process.
The Lower Swansea Valley was the largest copper processing area in the world at the end of the 19th century. Hafod Works were at the time the largest copper works on Earth. By 1873, the Landore district of Swansea boasted the world's largest steelworks, founded by German-born engineer William Siemens.
Cardiff used to be the world's biggest exporter of coal and iron. When it opened in 1839, the West Bute Dock was the largest masonry dock on the planet. The city's Coal Exchange, established in 1886, used to determine the price of the world's coal.
The Royal Mint of the United Kingdom is headquartered at Llantrisant, near Cardiff.
In 1804, the world’s first railway steam locomotive, "The Iron Horse", launched on its inaugural journey from from Penydarren to Abercynon in Glamorgan.
The world's first fare-paying, passenger railway service was established on the Oystermouth Railway in Swansea in 1807. It later became known as the Swansea and Mumbles Railway.
Merthyr Tydfil boasts the world's earliest surviving iron railway bridge, the Pont-y-Cafnau, built in 1793, as well as the world's first railway tunnel.
Founded in 1832, the Festiniog Railway is the oldest independent railway company in the world. In 1863, Ffestiniog became the first narrow-gauge railway in the world to carry passengers. One of its original steam engines, the Prince, is still running, making it the world's oldest steam locomotive in service.
In 1951, the Talyllyn Railway became part of the world's first railway preservation society.
The village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (translated in English as 'St Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave') is famous for having the longest place name in Europe (58 letters). The name of its railway station is the longest in the world. It is more commonly known as Llanfair PG or Llanfairpwll. The village's official website holds the Guinness Book record of the world's longest valid Internet domain name. Now you can test your memory and try to re-type it all without mistake.
The Festiniog Railway, the oldest independent railway company in the world.
The Menai Bridge, the world's first modern suspension bridge.
Architecture & Construction
The monastery of Bangor-on-Dee, near Wrexham, is the oldest in Britain. It was founded in 560.
Chepstow Castle, Monmouthshire, is the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain (in other words, the oldest medieval castle made of stone). Its construction began in 1067 - over a hundred years before Windsor Castle was rebuilt in stone (in 1170).
The medieval Beaumaris Castle on Anglesey is generally considered the finest example of concentric castle in Europe. It has been a World Heritage site since 1986.
Begun in 1120, Bangor Cathedral is the oldest cathedral still in use in Britain.
The ruined Flint Castle is the only British castle with two donjons. It is famous for having the thickest walls (7 m / 23 ft) of any castle anywhere.
Conwy possesses the most complete medieval city walls in the United Kingdom, the smallest house in Britain (3.1 m high and 1.8 m wide), and the oldest house in Wales (the 14th-century Aberconwy House).
Powis Castle possesses Britain's oldest, and one of the last, true formal baroque gardens. Its State Bedroom, dating from 1660, is the only one in Britain where a balustrade still rails off the bed alcove from the rest of the room (emulating the court of Louis XIV at Versailles). Powis is the most visited National Trust property in Wales.
The Old Bridge in Pontypridd, built in 1756, has the longest single stone arch (40 m / 130 ft) in the world.
Completed in 1805, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the longest aqueduct in Britain (307 m / 1007 ft) and the first aqueduct in the world to use cast-iron trough. The boat ride passing on the aqueduct is the highest in the world above land (38 m / 126 ft).
The Menai Bridge, linking the Isle of Anglesey to mainland Britain, the first modern suspension bridge in the world. Upon completion in 1826 it was the longest bridge on Earth, with a total length of 386 metres (1265 ft) and a main span of 176 metres (579 ft). It was damaged by the wind and rebuilt twice, in 1893 and 1940, and is now 417 metres (1,368 ft) long.
The Newport Transporter Bridge, constructed in 1906, is the largest of the nine surviving historic transport bridges in the world. Its span is of 196.5 metres.
At 91 metres (299 ft), the Llyn Brianne Dam in Carmarthenshire is the highest dam in the UK.
Aberdulais Falls, near Neath, is home to Europe's largest electricity-generating waterwheel.
The Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire, is the world's largest single-span glasshouse. It measures 95 metres (312 ft) on 55 metres (180 ft) and houses over 1,000 species of plants.
Conwy Castle, overlooking Wales' best preserved medieval town.
Powis Castle, home to Britain's oldest formal baroque garden.
People & Culture
Welsh, a Brythonic Celtic language, is ancestral tongue of Welsh people. Nowadays 750,000 people claiming a self-reported competence in Welsh (21.7% of the population of Wales).
The National Eisteddfod of Wales, a festival of literature, music and performance held in the Welsh language, is the largest festival of competitive music and poetry in Europe.
The Welsh are the direct descendants of the Roman-era inhabitants of England and Wales, who were displaced and confined to the hilly and rocky western fringe of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries. The English name for Wales originates from the Germanic word Walha, meaning stranger or foreigner, which is related to the word Gaul. The French and Italian word for "Wales" is Galles, while the Spanish is Gales.
The ancient Britons spoke a Brythonic Celtic language (the ancestor of Welsh) whose closest surviving relative is Breton, spoken in Little Brittany, France. Ancient Brythonic Celtic was more closely related to the Gaulish Celtic of the continent than to the Gaelic Celtic from Ireland and Scotland. Modern population genetics have revealed that the Welsh paternal lineages are overwhelmingly of Celtic origin. Around 60% of paternal Welsh lineages belong to Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-L21. This hints at a relatively small Roman presence in Britain, which may explain why Latin didn't survive the fall of the empire.
A few modern Welsh place names that sound typically Celtic are actually corruptions from Latin names left by the Romans. Caerleon is a shortening of the words castrum (fortess) and legio (legion). Gwent, the name of a modern county and a medieval kingdom, is likewise a normal phonetic evolution of the town name Caerwent, itself a Celtisisation of castrum + venta, from the Roman town name Venta Silurum. A similar process happened in England with the arrival of th Anglo-Saxons, who corrupted the Latin castra into -caster, -cester and -chester (as in Lancaster, Leicester or Manchester).
Typically Welsh surnames are given names ending in "-s", such as Williams, Davies, Jones, Edwards, Roberts, Hughes, Lewis, or Evans. More traditional names include Owen, Lloyd, Morgan, Vaughan, Jenkins, Meredith or Griffith(s).
Famous Welsh actors and actresses include Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, Catherine Zeta-Jones, as well as Monty Python comedian and film director Terry Jones.
Among other well-known Welsh people, let's cite geographer George Everest (after whom Mount Everest was named), explorer Henry Morton Stanley, former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, singer Tom Jones, designers Laura Ashley and Mary Quant, or classical singer Charlotte Church.
In the 2000 Census, 1.7 million Americans reported Welsh ancestry (although the true figure is most likely higher given the high occurrence of Welsh surnames in the USA). US States with the highest percentage of people of Welsh descent are Utah (around 20%), Ohio, Vermont and New York.
Notable Americans of (at least partial) Welsh descent include presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, but also William Penn (who founded Pennsilvania), Jack Daniel (founder of the homonymous whiskey), J. P. Morgan (bank & securities), architect Frank Lloyd Wright, aviator and film producer Howard Hughes (whose life was immortalised in the Academy Award-winning movie "The Aviator"), senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Hollywood actor Tom Cruise.