Last summer, twelve students and one professor shared an unforgettable experience called English Gothic Live, a course on medieval and medievalist architecture which we studied on site while based at the University of Warwick. One of the course requirements was for each student to write a blog entry, and we will be posting all of those here over the coming weeks.
Building after building. Site visit after site visit. One foot after the other. As I caught my breath after trekking up and down the hills of Wales, I looked up. At that moment I took a photo, but not with my camera. I took a photo with my mind because I knew I would want to remember this view forever. That view is of Conwy Castle and the surrounding landscape. Although this was a weekend trip and not on our course schedule, this piece of medieval architecture had every connection to the material we have been learning for the past three weeks. Seeing this castle outside of class time, made me recognize the connections between castle architecture even more.
You’d think that you know what stone and masonry are like when used in architecture right? But until you feel, surround yourself, and embrace the castle structure, you truly don’t know. When looking at photographs in a lecture, you don’t quite get the massing until you actually stand beside it. You don’t get that same sense of power and authority through a photo as much as you do when you are actually visiting the location. That is why I enjoyed this summer course so much. That is why I was an excited student each and every day.
Now what’s so important about this castle you ask? Conwy Castle is a medieval fortification built by Edward I between 1283-1289. Not only was the castle built, but so was the wall that surrounded the town of Conwy. And guess what? I was fortunate enough to climb the wall and get an amazing view of the castle from all over. Seeing the town itself from the wall was such a new perspective that it even gave me a sense of power and authority! I mean, why wouldn’t it though? King Edward I built it for defensive reasons and to show authority, protection, and power for the town of Conwy. It’s one of the best examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe. It’s even been classed as a world heritage site!
The castle became a symbol for English dominance. It all started with the English invasion when Edward I took control of Wales. The locals resisted his force so he commissioned an iron ring of castles, Conwy being one of them. Conwy was designed by James of St. George, Edward’s master builder. It took nearly 15,000 men in order to complete. Crazy right? Once it was done, English settlers, his own countrymen, were moved into the town at the expense of the locals. King Edward I was securing his hold on the Welsh which worked for a period of time but it also fell and got retaken a few times. The history is very complex and detailed but the purpose of the castle remained consistent.
The castle is built from local and imported stone. There’s an inner and outer ward for sections and it has 8 large defensive towers. I climbed the spiral staircases for all the towers I could! Some were taller than others but the views from all of them were breathtaking. Exploring the towers and different parts of the castle was very neat, especially since for one of our site visits three days prior, we looked at Kenilworth Castle. I was able to have something to compare Conwy to. I looked around at different parts of the castle such as the bakery, the prison tower, the chapel, and the royal apartments. The royal residences in Conwy were so grand with fireplaces and more extravagant rooms and decoration.
Spending the weekend in Conwy with likeminded friends and individuals added to the experience. Seeing the castle on Saturday and climbing the wall on Sunday allowed me to take in everything the castle had to offer. Nothing compares to seeing architecture in person, especially not Castles!!