Of the Great British legends, none are better loved than the tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. At the heart of this lore is Camelot, a splendid medieval stronghold where King Arthur held court, and the capital of his realm. It is always described as a beautiful castle, with a thriving community, impressive architecture and a cathedral; a place where peace, chivalry and nobility prosper. While dozens of old towns and ruined forts across England and Wales claim to be the true site of Camelot, the stories do not generally offer any set location, adding to the allure and mysticism of it. Sometimes Camelot is envisioned as overlooking the sea from an impenetrable clifftop, and sometimes it is said to be surrounded by the verdant forests, lakes, rivers and moors that are so often affiliated with the British countryside. According to the myths, though, the castle was destroyed by King Mark of Cornwall after Arthur’s defeat at the Battle of Camlann, and its secrets were buried forever.
Curiously, Camelot is not attested in any of the King Arthur material prior to the 12th century. It is thought that French Romanticism helped it evolve from the previous incarnation of Caerleon, Wales, but even the earliest mentions were no more than a passing reference. Most English and Welsh variations of the legends, however, retained the town of Caerleon as King Arthur’s seat well into the 15th century, but the popularity of Thomas Malory’s work saw Camelot eventually seize prominence, and the magnificence of its descriptions grow. While it remains the subject of much scholarly debate, many historians consider Camelot to be fictitious, and as much a symbol of medieval greatness as a tangible location.