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Several very distinct regions characterise thispart of South Wales. To the north run the valleys that were once an economicpowerhouse based on coal mining and the ironindustry. Much of the land that was once anindustrial wasteland has been reclaimed by nature, with the help of sensitive humanintervention, but there are still somemonuments to the great industrial ageremaining, chiefly at the Big Pit Mine andBlaenavon Ironworks. The regeneration hasbeen aided by the fact that, even whenindustrial activity was at its most rampant, it was all concentrated on the valley floors,leaving the uplands always wild and beautiful. To the south, the valleys of the Wye andUsk offer some truly glorious scenery, as wellas the equally breathtaking sight of Tintern Abbey. An inspiration equally for poets andartists, this abbey was at one time one of therichest in the country and the magnificentruins beside the River Wye are still a stirring
Cardiff and Monmouthshire
sight. This area, too, is one that saw muchcontest between the Welsh and the English, sonot surprisingly there are numerousfortifications to be seen and explored. The Three Castles - White, Skenfrith andGrosmont - provided a valuable defence fromtheir strong yet isolated positions, while mosttowns of note also had their own fortress.Monmouthshire itself, for many years, wasfought over politically. Was it an Englishcounty or a Welsh one? Henry VIII, in 1535,divided Wales into 12 counties and placedMonmouthshire in England. The waters weremuddied even further when people beganreferring to the Principality of Wales andMonmouthshire. In 1974, when localgovernment was reorganised, the matter wassettled when Monmouthshire was legally placed in Wales. The largest city in the area is Cardiff, thecapital city of Wales and a place that issuccessfully blending the ancient with themodern. The Romansoccupied various sites inthis area, but it was heavy industry and the influenceof the Bute family thatmade Cardiff such apowerful port. The homeof Welsh rugby, thesuperb MillenniumStadium, and a recently rejuvenated waterfront,Cardiff is a city that vibrates with life, energy and enthusiasm.