Conwy is a fascinating and essential place to visit if you're in the area, whether it be for the town itself, with its narrow historical streets or for the mighty castle that dominates the area.
Conwy Castle is the greatest and the best preserved of the eight huge fortresses built by Edward I, as his 'ring of steel', to help maintain his recently conquered Welsh subjects. These 13th century fortresses are among the best examples of medieval military architecture in the world. Conwy Castle began to be built in 1283 on a steep and rocky ridge that overlooks the treacherous current-swept River Conwy. James of St George, the greatest military architect of his day, was in charge of the construction. The Castle is long and narrow, with 8 massive drum-towers and 21 semicircular towers at regular intervals. It also made use of a tidal stream to form an extra line of defence to the south. The interior of the Castle was divided into two separate sections, so that if the outer wall should be breached, the inner ward could serve as defence with its second drawbridge. The entire defensive complex is in remarkably good consition and it is still possible to walk along the castle's 15ft thick medieval walls, designed in the shape of a Welsh harp and half-a-mile in length.
This great military building was put to the test in 1294 when, with Edward I in residence, the Welsh attacked Conwy and laid siege of it for 14 days before the attackers were defeated. Edward I twice used Conwy as his official residence. In 1399 Richard II, last of the Plantagenet rulers, resided in the castle before being lured to his fate by Bolingbroke's agents. In 1401 Owain Glyndwr, of the noble Angelsey family from which the Tudor dynasty would emerge, made what was to be the last great effort to regain Welsh independence. He managed to capture the castle by subterfuge, but then he struck a deal with Henry Hotspur and his English troops and betrayed the Welsh cause. Conwy Castle was returned to the English. In the 17th century Conwy, as with other castles, was embroiled in the British Civil War, and eventually in August 1646 Parliamentarians, under Major-General Mytton, captured Conwy after 3 months of siege. The Castle never again saw military usage and fell into disrepair. John Wesley, on a visit in the 18th century movingly described the castle as "the noblest ruin I ever saw".
When Edward I arrived in Conwy in 1283, it was the site of a Cistercian abbey, richly endowed by the Welsh warrior prince Llewelyn the Great 1173-1240. Edward moved the monks eight miles inland to make way for his castle and new town. Only the abbey church was kept and remains in use. Original work survives in the east wall of the chancel and the west wall of the tower. The interior is notable for a richly carved 15th century rood screen. This 12th century church provides a much needed place of calm in the very busy town.
The town became an extension of the castle, with its protective walls running out from the fortress on either side. These walls still encircle much of Conwy, are almost 6ft thick and 35ft in height, and originally incorporated three main, twin-towered gates, two of which are in everyday use. Conwy can boast over 200 'listed' buildings of which the following are among them. Plas Mawr is one of the best-preserved Elizabethan town houses in Britain. Built between 1576/85 the house has an interesting stone façade, some 52 windows and very elaborate plaster ceilings. Close by is the Aberconwy House, which has various period rooms open to the public. It is said to be the oldest house in Wales, the earliest parts may originate to the late 14th century. Jacobean and Georgian houses, together with rows of Victorian terraces, can also be seen. On the quayside is a building said to be the smallest house in Britain at 6ft wide and 10ft high.
Conwy was a difficult place to reach by road until the early 19th century, when bridges replaced the unreliable ferry. In 1826 Thomas Telford built a suspension bridge to span the River Conwy, and its brilliant and delicate ironwork contrasts and compliments perfectly the crenellated bulk of the castle battlements behind. This was used until the present road bridge was built in 1958. The third bridge was built for rail transport by Robert Stephenson in 1846.
For further information - http://www.walesdirectory.co.uk/Towns_in_Wales/Conwy_Town.htm