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Points of Interest: Swansea
Swansea is a waterfront city located on a five-mile stretch of sandy beach along the south west coast of Wales.
Although it is now the second largest city in Wales, after Cardiff, it is thought to have originated as a Viking trading post. This has given the city a long and vibrant history with artefacts from the Romans and Norsemen discovered in the area alongside those from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.
Although the exact origin of the name is unknown, common theories credit it as a derivation of Old Norse Sveinsey (Sveinn’s Island) or a combination of Norse Sweyn and ey, meaning inlet.
The earliest form of the modern name Swansea is written as Sweynesse and appears in the first charter granted to the city (circa 1158-1184) while the city’s Welsh name is first written as Aber Tawy in poems from the 13th Century.
Due to its waterfront location, Swansea naturally grew up as a strong and influential port for trading. To begin with, it focused mainly on cloth, wool, animal hides and wine but later expanded to include coal.
This caused massive expansion during the 18th and 19th Centuries with more coal mines and smelters opening in the area. As a result, Swansea became informally known as “Copperopolis” with metals including arsenic, zinc and tin all processed in the area.
Tinplate and pottery were also created by locals who underwent a massive population expansion between the end of the 17th Century and 1801; growing in number by 500% according to official census.
By the 20th Century, heavy industries in Swansea were declining and the landscape of the area was changing. The city was a prime target during The Blitz – due to its industrial history – and this resulted in the city centre being completely flattened during bombings.
Today, three Grade I listed buildings remain in Swansea (the Guildhall, Swansea Castle and Morriston Tabernacle) while most of the other buildings date to more recent, post-WWII periods.
Swansea officially gained city status in 1969 and has undergone massive regeneration over the last few decades. The Market, found in its city centre, is the largest covered market in the country and features alongside 230 shops to provide great retail opportunities.
The city is also home to Swansea University, a leading research-led institution boasting more than 15,000 students and over 2,000 staff – a big change from the 89 students who enrolled in its opening year (1920) after the foundation stone was laid by King George V.