Swansea is the second largest city in Wales after Cardiff. It derives its name from Sweyn's Ea which means the island of Sweyn. Sweyn was a Viking raider who chose this site, in the 9th or 10th centuries, as an ideal base from which to plunder the Welsh coastline. As Swansea is situated at the mouth of the River Tawe, where it empties into the curving sweep of Swansea Bay, Sweyn could access inland areas as well.
In about 1330, Bishop Henry de Gower built an impressive fortified manor house, known as ‘the castle', that dominated medieval Swansea for some 200 years, before it suffered serious damage in the early 15 th century at the hands of the Welsh rebel leader Owain Glyndwr. In 1647, during the English Civil War, Royalist Swansea was overrun by the Parliamentarians and the castle this time was demolished. All that remains to us are the ruins of a large crumbling tower and some domestic buildings. Somewhat isolated now, the ruins of castle castle looks anachrinistic, standing between the 21st century traffic and the modern commercial commercal city of Swansea.
Before the 18th century Swansea was little more than an attractive watering hole, but the intense development of copper and other metals meant that it would have another future. During the 18th century, the docks, first established in 1306 for shipbuilding, were rapidly developed to cater for the export of Welsh coal, copper and iron ore. By the middle of the 19th century Swansea was the metallurgical capital of the world, with 300 industrial chimneys. Disease was rife especially cholera and typhoid. There were 60 beggars' hotels and crime was widespread. Swansea in the early 20th century had become a truly unpleasant place in which to live. In 1941 Hitler's Luftwaffe tore the city up during severe bombing raids, finishing off what poverty, disease and crime had started.
Post World War Two Swansea changed Swansea's appearance beyond recognition. a spacious new city centre with wide streets and oases of greenery emerged, consisting of an appealing blend of traditional and modern that has arisen from the ashes of the old city. Still an important port with 6-miles of quays, a university town and a busy industrial centre, present day Swansea enjoys clean air and is a very attractive and welcoming city. The centrepiece of this modern development is the Maritime Quarter, where the old dockland has been transformed into a marina which is surrounded by stylish waterfront buildings, resulting in a successful mix of residential and leisure facilities. A former waterfront warehouse has been imaginatively converted into the excellent Maritime and Industrial Museum. Apart from tracing the history of Swansea as a port, the museum houses a 150-year-old working woollen mill still producing traditional Welsh weaves. There is also a replica tram from the world's first passenger tramline that trundled along the front from 1807 until 1960. Moored in the massive marina is a former Gower lightship and a steam tug, part of the largest collection of floating exhibits in Wales. Visitors are free to climb aboard. An unusual attraction in the modern and very pleasant city centre is the Plantasia, a giant pyramidal glasshouse wherein insects, fish, reptiles and cotton top tamarin monkeys roam amongst exotic plants.
Swansea's setting is impressive, built on steep slopes that provide almost all residents with magnificent sea views across the blue sweep of Swansea Bay. Here it was, in 1914, that Swansea's most famous son, the poet Dylan Thomas, was born at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. An ordinary semi-detached house standing on a very steep road distinguished with a blue plaque bearing the simple description ‘Dylan Thomas, Poet, 1914-53. Born in this House. Thomas spent the first 20-years of his life in Swansea, that "ugly, lovely town" as he described it, gazing down over the rooftops from his hillside home, "the still house over the mumbling bay". Nearby is Cwmdonkin Park, Thomas' "eternal park" where there is a memorial inscribed with lines from his famous poem Fernhill . The poet is elsewhere remembered in the Dylan Thomas Theatre as well as in numerous cafes, pubs and restaurants that carry his name. Two statues, one of Thomas the other of Captain cat, a well-loved character from Under Milk Wood , keep a watch over the Marina.
Oystermouth and the Mumbles are seaside resorts within Swansea's boundaries on the western extremities of her bay. The ruins of Oystermouth Castle lie in a small park overlooking the bay, where a number of underground passageways lead to the courtyard of the nearby hotel. Built in 1280, the castle was the family home of the de Breos lineage. Only the gatehouse, chapel and great hall survive today, atop a grassy mound. In the local churchyard is buried Thomas Bowdler, who at the beginning of the 19th century had the temerity to publish an expurgated edition of 10 volumes of Shakespeare "which cannot with propriety be read aloud to the family". That is how "to bowdlerise" found its way into the English language. The Mumbles remains a small and unspoilt sailing and watersports centre, distinguished by a Victorian pier. The high headland of Mumbles Head affords wonderfully panoramic views across Swansea Bay.
For further information see http://www.swansea.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=17411