Snowdonia, or Eryri in Welsh, refers to the mountainous region of North Wales, historically located within the Kingdom of Gwynedd.
The mountains themselves are dominated by the highest peak, ‘Snowdon’ or Yr Wyddfa in Welsh, at 3560 feet (1100m). Snowdonia is bounded by the Conwy River to the east and by the Irish Sea and the Menai Strait to the west and north. It includes numerous mountain ranges, extending south to Cadair Idris. This mountainous region consists of high peaks and upland valleys that are green oases amidst the rugged terrain. They are ideal for grazing and were home for millenia to the Welsh herds of sheep and cattle.
Among the native Welsh, Snowdonia, and Snowdon itself, have a special significance–even seen by some as sacred–for millenia. This word, Eryri, dates to at least the ninth century, when it was first written down, and may come from either the Welsh word eryr, meaning ‘abode of eagles’ or from the Latin, oriri, meaning ‘to rise’.
Within both Welsh legend and history, Snowdonia has been famously difficult for outsiders to conquer, acting as a barrier to the heart of Gwynedd and Anglesey from both the east and south. It is to Snowdonia that the Welsh people and their leaders have retreated when facing invasion, in many cases to return to fight again. Welsh legend says King Arthur and his knights are still sleeping in a cave in Snowdonia, awaiting the day they arise to once again take on the Saxons. Another semi-messianic figure, Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, is also prophesied to return when the time is right. His story is Arthuresque, in that, after his father was killed in battle in 634 AD, the year Cadwaladr was born, the usurper Cadfael took the throne for himself. Cadwaladr was raised in Snowdonia in secret until, at the age of 22, he overthrew Cadfael to reclaim his birthright as the true King of Gwynedd. (this story is the subject of my series of novels, The Last Pendragon Saga).
Five hundred years later, another ruler of Wales, Llywelyn Fawr, was born at Dolwyddelan, one of many castles built in Snowdonia by the Welsh kings and princes of Gwynedd. His grandfather, Owain Gwynedd, had ruled for forty years before his death in 1170, at which point two of his sons, Dafydd and Rhodri, set about killing all the others (of which there were many) in an attempt to split Gwynedd exclusively between them. Llywelyn was the son of Iorwerth, the eldest of Owain’s legitimate sons. Before Iorwerth himself was killed in battle, he sent his pregnant wife to the mountains, where Llywelyn was born, and then hidden until he could reclaim his birthright. In 1194, at 22, he challenged and defeated his uncles at the Battle of Aberconwy–and took the throne.
As Gerald of Wales writes: Dafydd, having married the sister of King Henry II… was powerfully supported by the English, yet within a few years the legitimate son, [Llywelyn], destitute of lands or money (by the aid of divine vengeance), bravely expelled [him] from North Wales …As one of the greatest Welsh rulers of the 13th century, Llywelyn even took Snowdonia into his title, in that he styled himself, ‘Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia’. Tywysog Cymru ac Arglwydd Eryri.