Excavations at Carmarthen Castle

Since 1994 a large scale enhancement project has been going on at the castle under the direction of Carmarthenshire County Council, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

An archaeological excavation is being carried out by Cambria Archaeology to find out more about the main gatehouse of Carmarthen Castle.

The castle was first built as a motte and bailey castle in 1109-10 and for a time served as the main headquarters of the Norman kings in west Wales. The original castle was refortified in stone during the 12th and 13th centuries, and the gatehouse that you can now see was built in around 1409. Outside the gatehouse are a series of old cellars that belonged to 18th and 19th century houses that once stood in front of the castle walls. These were revealed during earlier excavations on the site. The old cellars incorporate parts of a stone bridge that was used to cross a deep defensive ditch which lay in front of the gatehouse.

Cellars incorporating part of a stone bridge

Good weather during the second week of the excavation meant that progress was fairly quick and the modern tarmac and concrete was soon removed from the two main areas of excavation outside the castle gatehouse.

It was immediately apparent that archaeological features of considerable interest were hidden just below the ground surface. The area that was stripped at the edge of Nott Square revealed evidence of the foundations of a strong stone wall which, it is believed, may be part of the medieval bridge across the defensive ditch leading into the castle. Alternatively, it may be part of the medieval barbican or outer gatehouse that stood in front of the surviving gatehouse.

The second area opened up, closer to the gatehouse wall, has revealed a very complex picture of wall foundations and cobbled floors which mostly seem to date to buildings that have stood here during the last 200 years. However, some of these may be found to date to earlier times as the dig proceeds.

Historical Note

One of the great military and political leaders of Wales in the 12th century was Rhys ap Gruffudd (c. 1133-1197). He was the leader of the royal dynasty of Dinefwr, Prince of Deheubarth. At the heart of Rhys’s domain were the castle strongholds of the Tywi valley, and during the latter half of the 12th century his armies pushed the Anglo-Norman forces out of the southwest and captured the English kings’ own stronghold here at Carmarthen Castle, which stayed in Welsh hands until 1223. Rhys’s reputation was such that Henry II appointed him Chief Justicar of South Wales in recognition of his status and afterwards he was known as The Lord Rhys. Rhys is remembered for holding the first ever Eisteddfod at Cardigan Castle in 1176.

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