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  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > The Cities of Vortigern > Yr Wyddfa

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The 'Cities' of Vortigern
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Caer Guorthegirn
Robert Vermaat
 
Yr Wyddfa
Mountain
Arfon, Gwynedd
Very good access for the disabledFree access to the monument
Nearest town: Caernarfon
Nearest village: Beddgelert
Map reference: SH 609543
Location of Yr Wyddfa by UK Streetmap
 

One of the more strange places where Vortigern is reputed to have built his 'city' is the wilderness of North Wales. Here, in the absolute inaccessible highland of Gwynedd, he built his fortress to escape from his persuers. At least, this is told to us by 'Nennius':

Historia Brittonum, chapter 40

.. Having, to no purpose, travelled far and wide, they came at length to a province called Guenet; and having surveyed the mountains of Heremus, they discovered, on the summit of one of them, a situation, adapted to the construction of a citadel. Upon this, the wise men said to the king, "Build here a city; for, in this place, it will ever be secure against the barbarians."  

.. et postea ipse cum magis suis arcem adipisci venit et per multas regiones multasque provincias circumdederunt et illis non invenientibus ad regionem, quae vocatur guined, novissime pervenerunt; et illo lustrante in montibus Hereri tandem in uno montium locum, in quo aptum erat arcem condere, adeptus est. et magi ad illum dixere: arcem in isto loco fac, quia tutissima a barbaris gentibus in aeternum erit.

The remains of Vortigern's City on Yr Wyddfa?Geoffrey of Monmouth later changed this 'Heremus' to 'Erir':

Historia Regum Britanniae, book VI, chapter 17
At last he had recourse to magicians for their advice, and commanded them to tell him what course to take. They advised him to build a very strong tower for his own safety, since he had lost all his other fortified places. Accordingly he made a progress about the country, to find out a convenient situation, and came at last to Mount Erir, where he assembled workmen from several countries, and ordered them to build the tower.

Clearly, both 'The mountains of Heremus' and 'Mount Erir' are versions of Eryri, 'Abode of Eagles', better known as Yr Wyddfa or Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales.

Yr Wyddfa, dominating mountain range of north Wales.Though we can find several structures in this locality, it seems very hard to believe that anyone would dare to build a hide-out in a harsh place as this one! Or was Geoffrey simply mistaken, meaning the well-known Dinas Emrys instead?

Of course, Dinas Emrys is only a few miles to the south of Yr Wyddfa, and we have seen that local legend has connected other places in the region with Vortigern, such as Llyn Dinas. It seems safe to suggest that maybe Geoffrey did only mean a certain region and did possible only refer to Dinas Emrys. Besides that, Yr Wyddfa is of course not just one mountain, but also the name of a whole mountain range. It could therefore be possible, as one reader of this website rightly remarked, that another place was meant that the highest peak.

The mountains of Yr Wyddfa seen from Lleyn peninsula.However, we should never rule out this possibility of a fortress on the mountain completely, for maybe Geoffrey had heard from such a structure. Since the view from the mountain is indeed far and wide, a look-out instead of a hide-out could remain possible!

I can't resist including this beautiful poem, ascribed to(*) George Borrow (1803-1881):

Cold is the snow on Snowdon's brow
It makes the air so chill;
For cold, I trow, there is no snow
Like that of Snowdon's hill.

A hill most chill is Snowdon's hill
and wintry is his brow;
From Snowdon's hill the breezes chill
Can freeze the very snow.

 

Oer yw'r Eira ar Eryri, -o'ryw
Ar awyr i rewi;
Oer yw'r ia ar riw'r ri,
A'r Eira oer yw 'Ryri

O Ri y'Ryri yw'r oera, -o'r ar,
Ar oror wir arwa;
O'r awyr a yr Eira
O'i ryw i roi rew a'r ia

(*): I fact, this is not a poem by Borrow at all! These strange Welsh 'Englynion' or stanzas consist entirely of vowels, except for only one consonant, the 'R'. Borrow liked to recite it to dazzle (or bore) his friends and fellow walkers by his command of the Welsh language..

George Borrow had this to say about Vortigern and Snowdon:

Wild Wales, Chapter 29
It is interesting from its connection with history: it was to Snowdon that Vortigern retired from the fury of his own subjects, caused by the favour which he showed to the detested Saxons. It was there that he called to his counsels Merlin, said to be begotten on a hag by an incubus, but who was in reality the son of a Roman consul by a British woman. It was in Snowdon that he built the castle, which he fondly deemed would prove impregnable, but which his enemies destroyed by flinging wild-fire over its walls; and it was in a wind-beaten valley of Snowdon, near the sea, that his dead body decked in green armour had a mound of earth and stones raised over it.

Those who wish to go and see for themselves, can of course climb Snowdon, which is no mean feat in the best of wheather for the average walker. But for the less able-bodied enthousiast there is another possibility; the much-praised and much-reviled small railway that goes to the top as well! Since the views tend to be good in (almost) any weather, I can recommend it.

Bibliography

  • Borrow, George Henry (1862): Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery, at: http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/hst/english/wildwales/chap30.html.
  • Griscom, Acton (ed.), R. Ellis Jones (trans): Geoffrey of Monmouth.: The Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, (London 1929, repr. 1977).*
  • Stead, Michael J.: Literary landscapes, (Oxford 1989), pp 74-75..*
  • Thorpe, Lewis (trans.): Geoffrey of Monmouth: The History of the Kings of Britain, (Penguin Classics 1966).*

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