Guide to Wales

Wales retains a distinct identity within the United Kingdom. One of the countries that makes up the UK, Wales has a long history and rich culture. It is also home to a number of natural wonders, including the Gower Peninsula, Brecon Beacons National Park and Snowdonia National Park. Wales is represented in many international sporting events, including the Rugby World Cup, the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro Cup and the Commonwealth Games.

History

Wales maintains a separate national identity within the United Kingdom that traces back to the Celtic Britons. The area that is today recognised as Wales remained largely independent until Edward I conquered the country in 1282 following the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. The country regained independence briefly under Owain Glyndwr during the early part of the fifteenth century before it was gradually annexed and incorporated into England with the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542.

The country gained an important place during the Industrial Revolution as a centre for mining and manufacturing, particularly in South Wales where large deposits of coal were exploited. Prior to the eighteenth century, Wales was largely rural and based on an agricultural and pastoral economy. A renewed Welsh political identity grew during the nineteenth and twentieth century's. With the decline of traditional industries, the Welsh economy has increasingly focused on the public and service sectors, as well as light industry and tourism. In 1998, a National Assembly for Wales was established and gained responsibility for a range of devolved powers from the UK government.

Demographics

Wales is mainly mountainous and borders the Irish Sea to the north and west. To the east lies England, while the Bristol Channel sits to the south. Wales is home to over three million people, according to the 2011 Census. Much of the population of Wales is concentrated in South Wales, particularly around Cardiff, Swansea and Newport and the valleys north of these urban centres. More than 560,000 people in Wales speak Welsh, mainly in the north and west of the country. The country covers an area of 20,779 square kilometres or 8,023 square miles.

Major Cities and Towns

The capital of Wales and its largest city is Cardiff. The city is also Wales' most important economy and political centre, and is the home of the country's only international airport. Traditionally an industrial centre, Cardiff has grown into a major tourist destination in recent years. The city is also the site of Millennium Stadium, which hosts major international and national rugby and football competitions such as the 1999 and 2015 Rugby World Cup. Towns that once provided coal to feed the UK's industrial grown are found throughout the numerous valleys around Cardiff, including Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil.

To the west of Cardiff is Swansea, the second largest city in Wales. An important tourist destination and gateway to the Gower Peninsula, the coastal city was described by Dylan Thomas as an "ugly, lovely town" yet one of the most romantic he has experienced. Much of the city was destroyed during the Second World War, although recent redevelopment efforts have transformed the waterfront and city centre into a modern, cosmopolitan community. East of the Welsh capital is Newport, a cathedral city and significant port since the Middle Ages. The city traces its roots to a Roman settlement based in Caerleon, where ruins still remain.

The west of the country is home to several significant towns, including St. David's. Situated in Pembrokeshire, the small city is the final resting place of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales. Pembrokeshire is also home to Pembroke Castle, the birthplace of England's Henry VII, and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the UK's only coastal national park. Aberystwyth in Ceredigion is the birthplace of the movement to promote the Welsh language and a hub for Welsh nationalists. The coastal town also has a major student population. Also noteworthy is Carmarthen, one of the oldest towns in Wales. From the 16th to 18th centuries, the town was the most populous in the country and grew into an important economic centre during the Industrial Revolution.

Other major towns in Wales include Wrexham, the largest town in the country's north. North Wales is also home to Caernarfon and Conwy, both the sites of impressive and well-preserved castles. Along the picturesque coast of North Wales also sits Llandudno, a resort town that has attracted visitors since the Victorian period. The northern coastal city of Bangor is a gateway for Snowdonia National Park, home to the largest peak in Wales. The University of Wales operates a campus in Bangor, as well as Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Lampeter, Newport, Swansea and Wrexham.