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Wales (Cymru) is one of the countries making up the United Kingdom. Covering an area of 20,000 km2 (8000 square miles), Wales has 3 million inhabitants, 20% of whom can speak Cymraeg (Welsh).

Wales has been a principality of England since the Act of Union in 1536, although the Welsh Assembly sitting in Cardiff, created in 1998, is elected by the Welsh people. The Prince of Wales is a title given by the reigning British monarch to his or her eldest son, but in modern times the Prince does not live in Wales or have anything to do with its administration or government, although he visits frequently. Prince Charles is the first Prince of Wales since medieval times to be able to speak the Welsh language.

Parts of Wales have been heavily industrialised since the eighteenth century. Coal, copper and gold have been mined in Wales, and slate has been quarried. Ironworks and tinplate works, along with the coal mines, attracted large numbers of immigrants during the nineteenth century, particularly to the valleys north of Cardiff, which is now the capital city.

Prior to local government reorganisation in 1972, Wales had a total of thirteen counties: Anglesey, Brecknockshire[?], Caernarvonshire[?], Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire[?], Flintshire[?], Glamorgan, Merionethshire[?], Montgomeryshire[?], Pembrokeshire, Radnorshire[?], and Monmouthshire, the last-named county being sometimes regarded as part of England because of administrative ambiguities. Reorganisation resulted in eight counties, divided on the basis of population size: Clwyd[?], Dyfed, Gwent, Gwynedd, Powys, Mid Glamorgan[?], South Glamorgan[?] and West Glamorgan[?]. Following the introduction of unitary authorities during the 1990s, a free-for-all took place, with some counties reverting to their original names, leaving a confusing situation where some organisations, eg. the police authorities, straddle county boundaries, and some towns qualify as counties, eg Cardiff, Swansea.

The patron saint of Wales is Saint David, and the Welsh flag depicts a red dragon on a green and white field. The national emblems are the leek, a relative of the onion, and the daffodil. St David's Day is celebrated throughout Wales on March 1st.

The Romans gave Wales the name of Cambria, and established a string of forts across the southern part of the country, as far west as Carmarthen (Maridunum). There is evidence that they progressed even further west and crossed to Ireland from here. They also built the legionary fortress at Caerleon (Isca), whose magnificent amphitheatre is the best preserved in Britain. The Romans were also busy in north Wales, and an old legend claims that Magnus Maximus, one of the last emperors, married Elen or Helen, the daughter of a Welsh chieftain from Segontium, near present-day Caernarfon.

Wales was never conquered by the Saxons, due to its mountainous terrain and ample amounts of rain. A Saxon king, Offa of Mercia, is credited with having constructed a great earth wall, or dyke, along the border with his kingdom, to keep out the marauding Welsh. Parts of Offa's Dyke can still be seen today.

Wales continued to be a Christian country when its neighbour, England, was overrun by Scandinavian tribes. Thus, St David went on a pilgrimage to Rome during the 6th century, and was serving as a bishop in Wales well before St Augustine[?] arrived to convert the king of Kent and founded the diocese of Canterbury. Although the Druidic religion is alleged to have had its stronghold in Wales until the Roman invasion, many of the so-called traditions, such as the gorsedd[?] or assembly of bards, were the invention of eighteenth-century "historians". The traditional women's Welsh costume, incorporating a tall black hat, was not recorded until the nineteenth century.

The Norman conquest of Wales did not take place in 1066, when England was conquered, but was gradual, not being complete until 1282, when King Edward I of England defeated Llywelyn[?] the Last, Wales' last independent prince, in battle. Edward constructed a series of great stone castles in order to keep the Welsh under control. The best known are at Caernarfon, Conway, Harlech[?] and Pembroke Castle.

see also: National parks (England and Wales) and: Famous Welsh people


[1] (http://www.wales.gov.uk) www.wales.gov.uk, The National Assembly for Wales

Wales is also the name of a town in the UK:

and several places in the United States of America:

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