Dec. 20, 1955: Cardiff becomes the capital of Wales

Cardiff Bay’s reinvented waterfront mixes old and new. (Photo: VisitCardiff / Flickr)

Cardiff, Wales was around for a long time before it became a capital city: Archaeological evidence suggests that Neolithic people were building settlements and forts in this marshy spot in southwestern Britain coast 6,000 years ago. Its prominence and population have grown and shrunk many times over the ensuing years. Celts flourished before the Roman invasion. The city almost disappeared once the Romans departed at the end of the 4th century and grew again with the Normans’ arrival.

An old Roman fort was the beginning of Cardiff Castle, which is still — in oft-enlarged and refurbished form — one of the city’s landmarks.

The city’s rise to greatness in the 19th century came with its transformation into a shipping town during the Industrial Revolution. Docks proliferated as its proximity to coal fields, rivers and Cardiff Bay spurred building and immigration booms. Soon, Cardiff was the world’s biggest coal port. By the 1880s, it was also Wales’ biggest city. It became the capital in 1955 based partly on political considerations but has since embraced its role as an administrative center.

Although Cardiff’s importance waned with the decline of Welsh coal and steel, Cardiff fought to remain relevant, reinventing itself once again for the 21st century. Tourism is a big part of that: Capitalizing on its colorful history and culture, Cardiff created a new entertainment, museum and recreation district centered around Cardiff Bay’s redeveloped docklands. With more than 18 million visitors in 2010, Cardiff is the most visited place in Wales.

The city has also made itself a major filming destination. The new Doctor Who series is filmed there, for example, and fans who want a first-hand taste can immerse themselves in the Doctor Who Experience.