The weirdest city in the world

It is a city of beaches and mountains, forests and lakes – including an orange and black beach, a hollow mountain, a forest of giant aliens and the world’s most costly to maintain artificial lake. It has the largest man-made cave system and greatest number of military fortresses of any city anywhere. It was the epicentre of the longest war in human history, yet contains no memorials to the conflict. Among its buildings are a huge gaol in the heart of the city centre, the only sports stadium built to host another country’s games and an insane palace designed by a manic-depressive opium addict with a blank cheque from a religious fanatic who happened to be the world’s richest man. In its heyday the population grew faster than any city’s ever has, before or since, resulting in the annihilation of the native language and culture in a mere 50 years as it became the city with the highest proportion of immigrants on the planet. They arrived to make money from the extraction of a single natural resource – a process that was completed in less than a century, leaving the city in ruins and its hinterland the poorest in Europe. No urban economy has ever been so dependent on a single commodity, no commodity has ever been extracted to exhaustion in such rapid time, and never has so much wealth been generated to enrich so few. Saved by the improbable revival of a nation conquered half a millennium earlier, a revival stoked largely by a ball game, this city has transformed itself into a ‘capital’ crammed with national institutions, but a capital without a nation state, without territorial sovereignty and where no law has ever been passed. No mention is ever made of this glaring anomaly: the city’s street names celebrate those who tried to wipe its nation from the face of the Earth; the city’s press mocks and attacks that nation’s every facet; half the city’s people live their whole lives here unaware of or refusing to recognise the nation’s existence. Simultaneously the city with the most heightened sensitivity to national identity and the city with the least national feeling, it is the only capital without a team in its national football league, the only capital without an indigenous print media, the only capital without rail or motorway links to the rest of its nation, and the only capital whose university has a minority of native students. The administrative centre of the longest-occupied colony on Earth, Caerdydd is a very weird city indeed.