Snowdonia is a veritable treasure chest of ancient monuments, landmarks and settlements. Here are five of the area’s best-loved ancient sites that history lovers won’t want to miss.
For thousands of years, people have been living in the Snowdonia region. The area is awash with ancient sites, from standing stones and stone circles to burial chambers and hill forts. And it wasn’t just the ancient Britons that left their mark on Snowdonia; there was plenty of Roman activity, too, and many remnants of their occupation of the area are still with us today.
The Modern Antiquarian’s Gwynedd page lists some 180 ancient sites in the county, with several more of disputed antiquity. Many of Snowdonia’s ancient sites have fascinating myths and legends attached to them which, although not necessarily offering an accurate insight into Snowdonia’s history, will provide a glimpse into the hopes, fears and beliefs of the people that walked on this land in ancient times.
It would be impossible, of course, to list all of Snowdonia’s ancient sites in one short article; so we’ve selected five of the most popular ancient sites of Snowdonia to share with you.
Segontium, a Roman auxiliary fort on the outskirts of Caernarfon, was founded by Agricola during AD77-78. Segontium was the main Roman fort in North Wales, and it was connected by a road to Deva Victrix, the Roman legionary base at Chester.
Originally built of wood, the fort was rebuilt in stone during the second century AD and until about 394AD held up to a thousand auxiliary soldiers, comprised of non-citizens who had to serve the Roman army for 25 years.
2. Tre’r Ceiri
Tre’r Ceiri is one of Britain’s best-preserved hill forts, and one of the most densely populated too; the remains of over 150 stone houses are still visible, although many of these date from the Romano-British period (the Iron Age population was probably more like a hundred people, while in later times as many as 400 would have lived there).
With the enclosing ramparts of the fort still surviving to full height in some places, when you visit Tre’r Ceiri you’ll stand in awe of such a feat of engineering in such a seemingly inhospitable spot. The walk to the fort is quite steep and can be a little slippery on wet or icy days, so take care when you visit – but make sure you do visit, because it’s a fantastic attraction.
3. Bryn Cader Faner
Bryn Cader Faner, not far from Harlech, is one of the easiest to recognise ancient monuments in Wales. This round Bronze Age cairn has a very striking appearance, with a circle of thin, jagged pillars jutting out from the low cairn, looking for all the world like a ring of spears protecting what’s inside.
The cairn itself is quite small – just 8.5m wide and a metre high – and while there’s some damage caused by 19th century treasure hunters robbing out the site, and more damage caused by the army just before World War II, this is still a very haunting site and one that should be close to the top of any history lover’s “must see” list.
4. Dinas Emrys
Dinas Emrys, Beddgelert, is an important site in Welsh mythology. It was here, in a pool, that the red and white dragons, prophesied by Merlin, fought; and indeed the site’s name – Dinas Emrys – reflects Merlin’s influence, for his Welsh name was Myrddin Emrys. Merlin prophesied that the red dragon of the Britons would slay the white dragon of Vortigern’s Saxons – but there are so many versions of this story, it’s worth doing a bit of research and comparing them all.
Legends aside, what do we know about Dinas Emrys? Well, it turns out that its fortifications are from roughly the right time for Vortigern, and what’s more, there is in fact a platform above the pool in which the ‘dragons’ fought, though this dates from a little later. So perhaps there’s a little truth to those legends after all, if a little distorted by time…
5. Tomen y Mur
Built around 78AD and abandoned some 60 years or so later, Tomen y Mur was reoccupied during the Norman period, with refortification works also taking place. No contemporary references to Tomen y Mur exist, so we don’t know the fort’s Roman name; but we do know that it housed a small amphitheatre, quite a rare feature in a British Roman fort.