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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
National Eisteddfod: a brief history
The main pavilion
Thousands of people visit the eisteddfod every year
As Wales' oldest cultural event gets underway in Newport, BBC News Online takes a look at what the National Eisteddfod is really all about.

It is considered as one of Europe's largest competitive cultural festivals, which attracts 160,000 visitors and moves from north to south every year.

The eisteddfod promotes the Welsh language and the arts, as well as being a major social event.

Street theatre, market stalls, and rock music are among the entertainment.

The festival dates back to 1176, when poets and musicians from across Wales were invited to a grand gathering by Lord Rhys at his castle in Cardigan.

The best poet and musician were each given a chair at the Lord's table.

And the tradition continued - now the winning poet is given a hand-carved chair in a ceremony called 'The Chairing of the Bard'.

The Order of Bards (or Gorsedd y Beirdd in Welsh) is one of the familiar images of the eisteddfod.

Flower girls
The festival highlights Welsh culture

It is an association of poets, writers, musicians, artists and individuals who have made a significant and distinguished contribution to Welsh language, literature, and culture.

Its members are known as druids, and they wear robes of various colours depending on their rank.

Three main ceremonies to honour literary achievements amongst Welsh poets and prose writers take place over the course of the event which are conducted by the head of the Order of Bards, the Archdruid.

They include:

  • The Crowning of the Bard, for the finest free verse poet.

  • Awarding of the Prose Medal, for winner of prose competitions.

  • And the Chairing of the Bard, for the best long poem in strict meter.

But there is a variety of other entertainment staged throughout the course of the festival and a number of competitions for music, dance drama and other activities.

A 4,000 seater pavilion is the main venue for many competitions and entertainment but the eisteddfod field, known as the Maes, also hosts a food festival, sporting events and a market of 325 stalls.

There is a separate rock and pop entertainment event area called Maes B where Welsh language pop and rock acts perform - this year it will be held away from the main eisteddfod area in venues in Newport city.

The Newport and District eisteddfod is held in Tredegar House, Newport between 31 July and 7 August.


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