Cardiff's Civic Centre
Introduction to the Cardiff Civic Centre Walk
Welcome to one of the wonders of Wales and one of the most beautiful collections of civic buildings in the whole of Britain.
My name is James and I live in Cardiff, guiding visitors and locals through the hidden gems of the Capital City of Wales. I am delighted that you are joining me on this walk around the civic centre, and whether you live in Cardiff, or whether you are visiting Cardiff, I hope you will enjoy discovering the sights and stories of this important landmark.
You should be standing in front and to the left of the large, impressive building complete with clock tower. This is Cardiff City Hall.
Please stand here for a few moments while I tell you a little bit more about this spot.
This whole parkland area is called Cathays Park. It is 59 acres in size, that's nearly 25 hectares, and it houses a proud collection of buildings devoted to public, or "civic", service. That is why we call it the "Civic Centre". There is a law court, a museum, various university buildings, some Government buildings, and a Temple of Peace and Health, all set amidst gardens, statues and grand avenues.
Cardiff Civic Centre grew out of the vision of Cardiff’s leaders at the end of the 1800s. At that time Cardiff was not Capital of Wales because Wales had no “capital”. Cardiff was not yet even a city. But Cardiff was booming. In just 50 years it had grown from nowhere into the largest coal exporting port in the world, rapidly approaching 200,000 people by the end of the 19th century.
Cardiff needed new public buildings to serve its exploding population, buildings for its leaders, administrators, judges, teachers, and so on.
But the town fathers wanted more than that. They wanted to make a statement. To show the world that Cardiff was not just another grimy industrial town, but had a role to play for Wales, for Britain, and the then mighty British Empire. At the same time they wanted to send a statement to the world that, for the first time in centuries, Wales was beginning to rediscover its sense of cultural and national identity. Symbols of Wales can be found throughout this site.
But what was here before this Civic Centre? Well centuries ago this place was farmland, just outside the boundary of the tiny walled medieval town of Cardiff clustered around its castle. The very name "Cathays" is believed to come from an old English term describing "farmland outside a town".
Eventually the land was bought and enclosed as a private garden by the wealthy and powerful Bute family, who owned Cardiff Castle, and much of the land in Cardiff, from the 1700s to the twentieth century.
The 3rd Marquess of Bute was a strong supporter of the vision of a new Civic Centre so in the 1890s he agreed to sell this land back to Cardiff Corporation for work to begin in earnest to plot and plan its buildings.
And that's what this tour is about. Not just a walk around buildings, but a story of a city and capital in waiting.
Before we get going, let me briefly explain how VoiceMap works.
It uses your location to play audio automatically, at the right time and place. This means that you can put your phone away now. Don't worry if I'm silent for a while, when I'm not giving directions or telling stories. There's a map on your screen if you ever feel lost, and if you do get way off track without noticing, VoiceMap will let you know.
So let’s start our tour, and what better place to start than the building right in front of you, the centrepiece of this park: City Hall.
Please stay on this side of the road and walk past the fountains to stand directly opposite the front entrance. I will join you there to tell you more about it.