Prehistoric remains scattered throughout Gower and Lliw Valley bear testament to present day Swansea's early significance as a prehistoric settlement dating from 2000BC. Indeed some of the world's most important prehistoric human remains have been found on Gower peninsular, which includes the mysterious "red lady" - a Neolithic-period skeleton discovered in Paviland Cave on the southern Gower coast. A Roman fort on River Loughor predated the widescale invasion of the Vikings to these parts, who built a wooden stronghold on the banks of the Tawe estuary. Swansea's English name is derived from this era in its history, where it first appears as "Sweynesse" in a 12th century charter. This name is believed to have originated from Sweyne Forkbeard (Svend Tveskæg) - a 10th century Viking King who ruled Denmark from 986-1014AD. Swansea's Welsh name, "Abertawe" (pronounced 'Abba Toway') literally translates as, "at the mouth of the Tawe". This is a reference to river Tawe, which flows through the city from its source at Swansea Bay.
was the French Normans who developed the sea-faring potential of Swansea's natural
harbour, and were the first to establish a castle at the mouth of the river Tawe in 1106
and a watchtower at Oystermouth overlooking Swansea Bay from the west. Ship building was
established as early as the 14th Century, town walls were built and the rights to hold
market was first granted by royal charter from across the border.
Manufacturing led to Swansea's flourishing population growth (a fifteen fold increase) and prodigious economic prosperity. Metal extraction, initiated in Roman times, gave rise in Tudor times to the first tinplating and copper industries. Production of iron, copper, tin and zinc engendered Swansea's status as a world class industrial powerhouse. Huge reserves of coal, a major component in the development of the industrial revolution, were also discovered and extracted at this time; it fed Swansea's metal smelting works and it supplied a huge export industry in its own right. Swansea's development as a port, now on a par with the world's most powerful, flourished as the trade to export copper and minerals grew significantly in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Swansea's huge fleet of ships travelled the Cape Horn and the "four corners of the earth", trading in its precious commodities of copper and other metallurgical products. The city had a worldwide reputation as "Copperopolis" or "Copper Kingdom". Swansea produced 60 per cent of the world's copper requirement, at a time when copper demand was equivalent to perhaps aluminium today. This prestige carried a heavy price: sea faring during the time was very hazardous and some men never returned to Swansea Bay. Despite this, the Swansea "Horners" (an honorary title bestowed on the men who returned from Chile) were the most numerous Cape Horn survivors from a UK port.
These were innovative times for Swansea - for example, Morriston man Edward Martin invented the process of manufacturing pig iron by smelting iron ore with anthracite coal. Welsh chemist John Dillwyn Llewelyn, a cousin of William Henry Fox Talbot, discovered the oxymel process of photographic development, which facilitated pictures to be created outside the laboratory. Another Swansea cousin of Fox Talbot, Rev. Calvert Richard Jones, became one of the world's first portrait, architectural and travel photographers as a result of his association with distant cousin Llewelyn.
Despite this activity, Swansea was also gaining a reputation as a high-class seaside resort. During the 18th and early 19th century Swansea developed a fledgling tourist industry, at the time a reserve of only the wealthiest citizens. Swansea's cultural and scenic attributes charmed the gentry and gained itself the name of "Bath by the sea". This title acknowledged the fashionable name of the former Roman city of Bath, a playground for British high society which had coincidentally gained its fashionable reputation from Swansea-born Richard "Beau" Nash, the city of Bath's "master of ceremonies" - perhaps the world's first "spin doctor"!?
Swansea's respectable social calendar included regattas, cricket matches, assembly dances and partaking of the private bathing facilities which had been established along the sandy stretch of bayside promenade. It was at this time that Swansea Bay was first compared with the Bay of Naples, and could be enjoyed with the convenience of the world's first passenger railroad which traced the Swansea Bay coastline from 1807. The railway survived in various forms until 1960. During the late Georgian age, the city also made a name for itself as a centre of fine porcelain production - Swansea Porcelain is still highly prized by collectors the world over - and oyster harvesting. In 1840, Swansea established Wales's first museum near the present day Maritime Quarter. The first daily newspaper in Wales, "The Cambrian", was launched from Swansea Wind Street in 1804 and Wales' first purpose built cinema, the Swansea Carlton, has recently been converted as a bookshop and art gallery by Waterstones. Swansea still retains a worldwide reputation as a centre of excellence for stained glass.
local industrialists established huge estates on the west side of Swansea. Today the
legacy of these glorious bayside parklands are a reminder of the
world once inhabited by the hugely powerful fathers of Swansea's modern development.
The last three decades have seen an tumultuous metamorphosis in the city's commercial, social and architectural evolution. The Enterprise Park development with its forestry, lake and an open pleasant environment, leads down to the Tawe from the east of the city where the chimneys of the copper industries once stood. Eight thousand people now work in the retail and light manufacturing sectors within the Park. The creation of the Maritime Quarter between the city centre shopping facilities and the magnificent natural bay, presents a unique waterfront leisure and cultural park - yachting marinas vie for attention with fashionable restaurants and museums.