Several very distinct regions characterise this part of South Wales. To the north run the valleys that were once an economic powerhouse based on coal mining and the iron industry. Much of the land that was once an industrial wasteland has been reclaimed by nature, with the help of sensitive human intervention, but there are still some monuments to the great industrial age remaining, chiefly at the Big Pit Mine and Blaenavon Ironworks. The regeneration has been aided by the fact that, even when industrial activity was at its most rampant, it was all concentrated on the valley floors, leaving the uplands always wild and beautiful.
To the south, the valleys of the Wye and Usk offer some truly glorious scenery, as well as the equally breathtaking sight of Tintern Abbey. An inspiration equally for poets and artists, this abbey was at one time one of the richest in the country and the magnificent ruins beside the River Wye are still a stirring sight. This area, too, is one that saw much contest between the Welsh and the English, so not surprisingly there are numerous fortifications to be seen and explored. The Three Castles - White, Skenfrith and Grosmont - provided a valuable defence from their strong yet isolated positions, while most towns of note also had their own fortress.
Monmouthshire itself, for many years, was fought over politically. Was it an English county or a Welsh one? Henry VIII, in 1535, divided Wales into 12 counties and placed Monmouthshire in England. The waters were muddied even further when people began referring to the Principality of Wales and Monmouthshire. In 1974, when local government was reorganised, the matter was settled when Monmouthshire was legally placed in Wales.
The largest city in the area is Cardiff, the capital city of Wales and a place that is successfully blending the ancient with the
modern. The Romans occupied various sites in this area, but it was heavy industry and the influence of the Bute family that made Cardiff such a powerful port. The home of Welsh rugby, the superb Millennium Stadium, and a recently rejuvenated waterfront, Cardiff is a city that vibrates with life, energy and enthusiasm.
The capital city of Wales boasts a lively city centre that was recently voted the 6th best shopping destination in the UK and, in Cardiff Bay, one of Europe’s most stylish waterfronts. A £220 million barrage across the mouth of the River Taff and a kilometre long, has transformed tidal mudflats into a 200 hectare freshwater lake, and elsewhere in the city a £2 billion programme of regeneration is under way.
The area once known as Tiger Bay is one of the country’s most exciting and imaginative regeneration developments. Now called Cardiff Bay, this revived waterfront is home to the new National Assembly (known as Y- Senedd in Welsh), the impressive Pierhead Building, which was built in 1896 for the Bute Docks Company, and the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre (known locally as The Tube). At this award-winning tubular building, visitors can see a futuristic exhibition that lays out the full vision of the complete development, which, among other aims, is re- uniting the city with its dockland. The Wales Millennium Centre is an arts and cultural centre of world importance. It is also home to the world class Welsh National Opera. Of particular interest to children at Cardiff Bay is Techniquest, the country’s leading science discovery centre, where visitors can explore many aspects of science and technology through a range of interactive exhibits. On certain days, Wallace and Grommit Invention Sessions take place.