A brief introduction to Wales ahead of the NATO Summit Wales 2014.
Wales is one of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom. A distinctive yet connected part of the UK, Wales is best known for its culture, heritage, sport and its warm welcome. Croeso.
History and culture
Wales is home to more than 3 million people and has more than 30,000 years of history. It is a place with ancient roots and a strong Celtic heritage. The Welsh language is one of the oldest living languages in Europe, and is the strongest survivor of all the Celtic languages.
Wales’ fascinating past is very much part of its present, with a visible timeline of standing stones, Roman ruins, ancient fortresses, and country estates. Four castles together make up the Edwardian Castles World Heritage sites at Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris, and Harlech. With more than 640 castles ranging from the fortifications of medieval Welsh princes and English kings, to the fairy tale follies of 19th century industrialists, Wales can lay claim to be the castle capital of the world.
Wales has a vibrant and diverse cultural heritage. Known as ‘The Land of Song’, musical performance and choral excellence has been celebrated in Wales for centuries and literature is also at the heart of Welsh identity, with poets and writers rewarded and revered annually at the National Eisteddfod, Wales’s premier Welsh-language festival of performance.
Dylan Thomas was hailed as the greatest poet in the world at his death. One hundred years after his birth, his legacy is being explored through myriad art forms in the exciting year-long DT100 festival.
Some of the oldest surviving poems in the world are Welsh while our medieval myths and Arthurian legends still beguile to this day. Perhaps it’s our innate grasp of what makes a great story that has brought the production of some of the most imaginative TV dramas in the world to Wales. Sherlock, Doctor Who, Merlin, Atlantis, and Da Vinci’s Demons are all made in Wales.
Three areas of Wales are designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. These areas of ‘outstanding universal value’ include Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – the stunning ‘stream in the sky’ which is still in operation today, as well as Blaenavon, the iron town which embodies how Wales became the first industrialised nation in the world. It’s also the home of the award-winning Big Pit National Coal Museum, illustrating the story of how mining shaped the spirit of Welsh communities.
Things to do and see
Wales has beautiful landscapes of national parks, mountain ranges, lush valleys, craggy coastlines, pristine beaches, ancient woodlands, lakes, and rivers.
The readers of the ‘Rough Guides’ recently voted Wales one of the top 5 places in the world to visit in 2014. The Welsh Coast Path is the only uninterrupted coastal route around an entire country, at 870-miles, and the Gower Peninsula was the first place in the UK to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with Rhossili beach named one of the top 10 beaches in the world and the best beach in the UK. Coasteering, the sport of swimming, climbing, and diving along a coastline in wetsuits, life-jackets, and helmets was invented in Wales.
Wales can also boast some magnificent country houses set in beautiful landscapes. The splendour of Tredegar House is just a short journey from Newport city centre, and can take you back 300 years to the age of Charles II. Tintern Abbey, admired by poets like Wordsworth and Tennyson, is one of the most spectacular ruins in the country and just over 20 miles from Newport.
The art collection at the new National Museum of Art, within the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, is one of Europe’s finest. Its galleries house 500 years of magnificent paintings, drawings, sculpture, silver, and ceramics, not to mention one of Europe’s best collections of Impressionist works. The museum also hosts one of the most provocative, compelling, and cutting-edge events in the visual arts world – the Artes Mundi International Exhibition and Prize.
Also in Cardiff is the Wales Millennium Centre, a state of the art performance facility which stages world-class opera, orchestral concerts, plays and musical theatre direct from London’s West End.
The Newport Transporter Bridge is one of only 6 transporter bridges left in the world. Spanning 645 feet, it was first opened 1906. Still operational, it is now Grade I listed.
Brecon Beacons National Park is an hour north of Cardiff and has a long and rich history. Known for its waterfalls, reservoirs, mountains, and prehistoric and Roman sites, it became an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2013.
Industry and economy
Since the first £1 million cheque was allegedly signed at the Coal Exchange in Cardiff at the start of the 20th century, Wales has been a great place to do business.
As the cradle of the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, Welsh valleys produced the iron and coal that fuelled global progress, with Cardiff becoming one of the busiest ports in the world. But in the 21st century Wales is still at the forefront of key industries particularly aerospace, automotive, and life sciences.
With a £47 billion economy, the close proximity of industry, business, government, and universities in Wales ensures consistent and ground-breaking innovation – whether it’s creating Europe’s largest offshore wind farm, or Cardiff University embarking on the biggest academic study of Alzheimer’s disease in the world.
Entrepreneurial spirit and Welsh imagination have produced some of the world’s greatest inventions. The fuel cells like those on the NASA Apollo and Shuttle programmes were first created by William Grove of Swansea, while the Felinfoel Brewery in Llanelli gave Europe a more down to earth innovation – canned beer.
With a long and established heritage of manufacturing and expertise, Wales has attracted some of the biggest names on the planet – including Ford, SONY, and GE. When Toyota was looking for somewhere outside Japan to manufacture its new hybrid engine it chose Wales. Airbus manufacture their A380 aircraft in Wales at what is believed to be the single largest employment site in the whole of the UK. Wales also has British Airways, Tata Steel, General Dynamics and IQE, but also bespoke and local businesses, such as creative, home-grown successes like Melin Tregwynt and Tŷ Nant.
Rail upgrades mean you will be able to travel from Cardiff to Canary Wharf in 2 hours, so with 7 dedicated Enterprise Zones and some of the highest levels of support funding in Europe, it’s an appealing place to do business.
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