About 160,000 people each year attend the National Eisteddfod of Wales, a celebration of music, poetry and art established specifically to promote the Welsh language and culture. Famous throughout the world, the origins of this spectacular event, held at the beginning of every August, can be traced as far back as 1176 when, at Cardigan Castle, Lord Rhys allowed the most talented of the assembled poets and musicians to have seats at the high table. The Eisteddfod in its current form was first held in 1860 in Aberdare, and, since the formation, in 1880, of the National Eisteddfod Association, it has now become an annual event. There is not a permanent venue for the festival; it alternates between North and South Wales.
Linked for many years with the Gorsedd of Bards – an elite group of poets, writers, musicians, artists, etc who have helped promote the international reputation of Wales – and also with certain druid ceremonies, the Eisteddfod takes place each year in a chosen field, known as the Maes. Because of the large area of land needed to accommodate the enormous event, the Eisteddfod is customarily outside of the actual host town, and a symbolic stone ring is erected at the centre of the maes. Often, the stone circle is left as a permanent reminder of the Eisteddfod’s visit to the town.
In addition to the internally known singing competitions and concerts, which take place in the main Pavilion, there are pop, folk and rock concerts, classic plays, comedy events. The Pavilion hosts the ceremonies and prize givings that also characterise an Eisteddfod and help invest it with its special atmosphere. There are also a dance hall, a literary tent, a Science and Technology venue, a tent for learners of Welsh, a Youth tent and more than 300 stalls of miscellaneous arts and crafts – as well as an array of tempting food.
It is possible to obtain tickets for individual concerts or for longer periods. Information can always be found at the website, www.eisteddfod.org.uk, where you can easily navigate to pages in English. Incidentally, the main events of the Eisteddfod are carried out in Welsh but simultaneous translations are usually available. Certainly, the quality of the programme for each year really does transcend any language barrier. Not only can the competitions themselves reveal startling new talent – the now world famous baritone Bryn Terfel is a former winner, for example – but well-known artists can always be seen at the concerts which form equally as important a part of the proceedings. Although the Welsh language does form such a vital element of the event, it does not mean that non-Welsh speakers need feel unwanted or intimidated in anyway; the Eisteddfod is a friendly, welcoming occasion for speakers of any language.
Many visitors decide to camp or bring caravans to the National Eisteddfod, although you will need to book your place well in advance. There are usually caravan places with electricity as well as those without power. As some of the host towns can be quite limited in terms of accommodation, be aware that hotel or guest house prices at the beginning of August are likely to be rather expensive.
The National Eisteddfod of Wales was held in Denbighshire in 2013 then Llanelli in 2014. Venues for 2015 1nd 2016 are Montgomeryshire followed by Monmouthshire which maintains the proud tradition of alternating venues.