Caerphilly’s moment in the limelight

Rhodri Ellis Owen hails Illuminata 2010 at Caerphilly Castle as a landmark achievement for heritage tourism

The Ryder Cup may be grabbing the headlines, but what is taking place at nearby Caerphilly Castle from tomorrow until 8 October will be an amazing technicolour journey and a feast for the senses. Leave the golf course for a moment and let Illuminata whisk you through this region’s ancient and modern history in a truly spectacular and large-scale fashion. Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, hasn’t taken any chances. World-renowned high power projection specialist Ross Ashton, responsible for the memorable bathing of Buckingham Palace in light for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, has created a  series of vignettes with the inner ward of the Castle and Great Hall as majestic backdrops. Mike Collins, a Cardiff-based illustrator, respected world-wide for his work with Marvel and DC Comics, has been tasked with animating the key characters.

The whole project has been made possible thanks, in part, to £19m secured by Cadw to develop Heritage Tourism in Wales. The project, largely funded by the Welsh Government and EU Convergence Funds, will maximize the economic value of heritage through increasing the volume, length and value of visits to Wales. It will also ensure Wales’s heritage is more accessible and enjoyable to visit, both for visitors Welsh people themselves.

The historic environment of Wales is diverse and striking. It plays a crucial role in enabling us to tell Wales’s story and to give visitors and residents a better understanding of our history and culture. It is also one of the main reasons why so many people visit and stay in Wales.

Illuminata is only one part of a story which is helping to make heritage come alive across the country. Cadw will be working with communities, heritage partners and the tourism sector to develop heritage tours, trails and events packages to present visitors with a more integrated range of heritage tourism initiatives and to ensure the project benefits the wider community and tourism industry.

Back to Caerphilly and a brief history lesson should you not be able to catch the show. The story begins in 1268 with the construction of the castle and features Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Gilbert de Clare as they fight for supremacy and control of the castle with animations projected across the walls of the inner ward.

Act Two begins in 1315 and sees Payn De Turberville installed as the new keeper of Glamorgan and fanatical tax collector. Needless to say he is not a popular man and a revolt led by Llywelyn Bren besieges the castle. Dramatic scenes ensue as the men of Glamorgan lead a revolt, burning fields, villages and castles. However, royal forces move in and Bren and his supporters surrender.

The new lord of Glamorgan enters the scene in Act Three. Soon after taking up his new role Hugh Despenser executes Llywelyn Bren in 1318 and we see his head roll away into the dark. Hugh – a close friend and confidante of King Edward II – redesigns the great hall so that Caerphilly is as much a palace as a fortress and enjoys a lavish lifestyle as lord of Glamorgan. However, by 1326, the king’s queen, Isabella, has had enough of Despenser’s influence over her husband, and with her lover, Roger Mortimer, they chase the unlucky pair across England and Wales until they are captured near Llantrisant. Sir Hugh is hanged drawn and quartered.

The Fourth Act ushers in the start of a decline in the castle’s fortunes. Although it is still in use in 1428 as a prison, by 1583 Thomas Lewis is granted permission to take away the stone and enlarge his own house. This is The Van which, now restored, still overlooks the town. The Civil War rages in Wales between 1642 and 1648 and probably shortly after, the castle is deliberately damaged to make it useless as a stronghold – explosions everywhere are the name of the game.

The final act sees the fourth Marquess of Bute entering the frame. It is 1928 and the Great Depression sees thousands out of work. The Marquess uses this pool of labour to start major restorations of the castle and the animations shows drawings and antiquarian images that trace the story of the castle from ruin to the magnificent restored fortress we see today. The final frames celebrate the role that the castle plays in the life of 21st Century Caerphilly, as part of events like The Big Cheese and Cauldrons and Furnaces.

More information on the Illuminata event can be found at Tickets are also available from Caerphilly Castle itself on 02920 883143

Rhodri Ellis Owen is chief executive of Cambrensis Communications.

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