Built half on the mainland and half on a jagged headland projecting into the Cornish sea, Tintagel Castle is one of the most spectacular historic sites in Britain. Its association with King Arthur makes it also one of the most famous. But the history of this enigmatic place stretches back centuries before the first tales of the legendary king shrouded it in the mists of romance.
History and legend are inseparable at Tintagel. During the so-called Dark Ages (about the 5th to the 7th centuries AD) it was an important stronghold, and probably a residence of rulers of Cornwall. Many fragments of luxury pottery imported from the Mediterranean were left behind by those who lived here.
It was probably memories of this seat of Cornish kings that inspired the 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth to name it in his History of the Kings of Britain as the place where King Arthur was conceived, with the help of Merlin. At the same time, Cornish and Breton writers linked the love story of Tristan and Iseult with Tintagel.
In turn, these associations with legend led the hugely rich and ambitious Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build a castle here in the 1230s. The site was of no military value – legend alone seems to have inspired him to build here. And long after the castle had fallen into decay, its mythical associations kept interest in Tintagel alive.
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