The medieval landscapes of central Wales

Prof. David Austin.   

Running since 2004 the Strata Florida is centred on a former Cistercian Abbey and its estate in mid-Wales, a small part of which is consolidated as a Cadw guardianship monument. The research has addressed global themes including identity, status, territory, environment, production, spirituality and nature/culture interaction. Key themes are as follows:

  • The research has established that the former Abbey was central to a political attempt in the 12th and 13th centuries to promote the ideology and functions of a Welsh state. 
  • The project has established its plan and buildings, including the very large gatehouse which is being excavated in full, also reflect earlier origins and identities rooted in the time of the pre-Norman Welsh Kings.
  • Through survey and small-scale excavation, the project has shown that extensive archaeological traces remain, in the form of buildings, agrarian systems, ancient hydrology, old mine works as well as historical ecology, including pollen indicators in the nearby Tregaron Bog once owned by the Abbey and now a NNR and Ramsar site. We have shown that the pattern of modern agriculture and sustainable practices were established at this time.
  • The Abbey in its central ideological role promoted both local traditional arts and new European styles, to be seen notably in its sculpture and its creation of manuscripts written in the medium of Welsh, including the first national history in the language.  The research has enhanced this understanding and the Project has worked with creative artists to re-establish this role, especially in sculpture, literature and story-telling performance.
  • The research has also worked on the post-medieval history of the site and its landscapes, including a complex of redundant buildings with a II* former mansion at its core.  The project has promoted the restoration and conversion of these buildings into a centre predicated on the historic narrative of the place and its meanings and is now the subject of an Heritage Lottery Fund application.
  • European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (RDP)
  • European Science Foundation
  • University of Wales (CAWCS) Fieldwork Grants and Research Assistantship
  • Interreg 4A Ireland – Wales programme (ERDF)
  • Cadw
  • Welsh Government Knowledge Exploitation Fund

In recognition of the site’s historic importance for the Nation’s heritage, Ceredigion County Council and Welsh Government approved a £406,776 project for the university funded by theEuropean Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (RDP) in 2009.

The two-year Strata Florida Heritage Landscape Tourism Project was made under the Axis 3 priority to improve the rural life and economic development of the area, in this case through research studies, public events, a primary education programme, public consultations, interpretation plans and physical interventions.  

Through the funding the University was able to employ a practicing archaeologist and project manager (Martin Locock) to work with communities and businesses in order to build on the existing research programme. The programme of work focused on a newly-branded ‘Wales National Dig’ whichbuilt upon the existing research programme and its outputs in addition to a new excavation of the Abbey’s gatehouse.

As a direct result of our work the site is now recognised by the Welsh Government as one of the top 11 heritage sites in the nation.  Visitor numbers on site have seen a steady increase during the period, recording a 162% rise from a baseline of 3441 in 2008 to 5562 in 2011.  More recently, visitor numbers and length of stay have seen considerable peaks during the project’s public excavations, with figures documented in excess of 900 (source: Cadw custodian).

Through the work in this research area the School has active research links and collaborations with researchers and practitioners in:

  • Prof. Lutter, Christina (Institute of Austrian Historical Research, University Vienna)
  • Dr. Hornícková, Katerina (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)
  • Dr. Pavlína Rychterová (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)
  • Prof.  Kostova, Rossina (University of Veliko Tarnovo)
  • Prof.  Kubín, Petr (Charles University Prague)
  • Prof.  Signori, Gabriela (University Constance, Dep. Of History and Sociology)
  • Johannes Schütz, M.A. (University Göttingen)
  • Dr. Mersch, Margit (University Kassel, Dep. of Medieval History)
  • Prof. Laszlovszky, József (Central European University Budapest)
  • Prof.  Romhányi, Beatrix (Calvinist University Budapest)
  • Ferenczi, László, M.A. (Central European University Budapest)
  • Dr. Breathnach, Edel (University College Dublin, Micheál O'Cléirigh Institute)
  • Prof. O’Keefe, Tadgh (University College Dublin, School of Archaeology)
  • Dr. Florea, Carmen (University Babes Bolyai, Cluj; Faculty of History and Philosophy)
  • Dr. Claudia Florentina Dobre (University of Bucharest)
  • Dr. Stöber, Karen (University of Lleida; Faculty of Philosophy)
  • Pascua Echegaray Esther, M.A. (Madrid Open University)
  • Dr. Jamroziak, Emilia (Univ. Of Leeds, Dep. of History)
  • Prof. Johnston, Dafydd, (Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth)
  • Dr. Müller, Anne (University of Wales Trinity Saint David)

Austin, D. 2013 ‘The Archaeology of Monasteries in Wales and the Strata Florida Project’, in Burton, J & Stober, K. (eds) Monastic Wales, New Approaches, Cardiff: University of Wales Press,

Austin, D. 2013 ‘Mountain landscapes and the tradition of industry: the Cambrian Mountains of Central Wales’ MADE, Journal of the Welsh School of Architecture, 8, 6-15

Austin, D. 2004 'Strata Florida and its Landscape', Archaeologia Cambrensis, 153, pp. 192-201

Bezant, J. 2013 ‘The medieval grants to Strata Florida Abbey: mapping the agency of lordship’, in Burton, J & Stober, K. (eds) Monastic Wales, New Approaches, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 73-88