Castell Coch (The Red Castle) – Tongwynlais, Wales - Atlas Obscura

Castell Coch (The Red Castle)

Tongwynlais, Wales

High Victorian fantasy created a fairytale castle out of a ruined fortress in Wales. 


19th century architect William Burges gazed upon the foundation of what was once the fortification of a 13th century Welsh chieftain, and saw the perfect beginnings of the dreamiest fairy castle ever.

Castell Coch was constructed to embody the marriage of Gothic and High Victorian design, a restoration of what was once a building of strategy and necessity into a decadent fantasy castle straight out of a storybook. Not much is known about the history of the earlier castle, the likelihood is that it was a victim of the 14th century Welsh rebellion, a forgettable architectural casualty. That is until John Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, took an interest in the site in 1871. He contracted his architect Mr. Burges to take it on as their next ambitious reconstruction project, with big plans to turn the formerly functional castle into a ravishing architectural beauty.

While not exactly historically accurate, the restoration can surely be described as storybook whimsy. Conical towers rise above a fanciful drawbridge, while inside birds and butterflies grace guilder trellises. An ornate chimney piece depicting The Three Fates doling out the thread of life above an exquisite fireplace. Bedrooms and ballrooms, all draped in the opulence of High Victorian Gothic style.

Burges died in 1881, but the restoration continued. For another decade, bits and pieces were added, an architectural hybrid built purely for the pleasure of building a castle of fancy. Today, the castle is in the hands of the Ministry of Works, and is considered forgiven for its historical inaccuracies for its architectural uniqueness.

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