History meets legend at Tintagel Castle

  • A bronze sculpture inspired by the legend of King Arthur and Tintagel's royal past is the centrepiece of new interpretation which explores the history of the Cornish castle.

The new visitor interpretation at Tintagel Castle, on display from Friday 29 April, explores the history of the Cornish castle and the role legends have played in shaping the site visitors see today.

The new outdoor interpretation is designed to complement the castle's indoor exhibition, which opened last summer, to explore the rich history of Tintagel.

Jeremy Ashbee, English Heritage's Head Curator, said: “With our exhibition and with this new interpretation, visitors to Tintagel can now get a complete overview of its history - from the artefacts discovered there to the legends associated with it.

“You cannot understand Tintagel's history without understanding how the legends shaped it. Our new interpretation explains this and places these legends within the context of Tintagel's overall history and significance.”

The New Interpretation

A series of panels around the 18 acre site explore 1,500 years of Tintagel's history - from royal stronghold, to thriving trading port, to a castle of romantic legend.

Tintagel is also a place which has inspired stories and legends for centuries, and the project has sought to represent this side of the castle's history too. A highlight of the new interpretation is Gallos (meaning 'power' in Cornish), an eight foot bronze sculpture inspired by the legend of King Arthur and Tintagel's royal past, created by artist Rubin Eynon.

Elsewhere, a stone compass points to places connected with the legend of King Arthur (popularised by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th-century). Engraved stepping stones around the island garden tell the tragic love story of Tristan and Iseult, a medieval tale set at Tintagel. On the beach, close to Merlin's Cave, a carved face represents Merlin, who has been associated with the site since the 12th century and immortalised by the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Tintagel's Early History

Believed to have been the seat of early Cornish kings, by the 5th century Tintagel was an important royal stronghold of the kingdom of Dumnonia. Several thousand pieces of Mediterranean pottery have been found at Tintagel, which suggests it was one of the most important economic settlements in Britain, importing luxury goods from North Africa and the Mediterranean.

This settlement may have inspired the early legends about the site. It became known as the location for the love story of Tristan and Iseult, and for Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th-century description of the conception of King Arthur. These legends in turn led Richard, Earl of Cornwall to choose this location as the site of his medieval castle in the 1230s. Much later, after a revival of interest in Arthurian stories during the Victorian period, writers, artists and tourists were inspired to visit the dramatic ruins.

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