Swansea lies within the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan. Situated on the sandy South West Wales coast, the county area includes the Gower Peninsula and the Lliw uplands. The City and County of Swansea had a population of 239,000 in 2011, making it the second most populous local authority area in Wales after Cardiff. During its 19th-century industrial heyday, Swansea was a key centre of the copper industry, earning the nickname 'Copperopolis'.
Swansea is thought to have developed as a Viking trading post. Its name may be derived from Sveinn's island (Old Norse: Sveinsey) – the reference to an island may refer to a bank at the mouth of the river Tawe, or an area of raised ground in marshes. An alternative explanation is that the name derives from the Norse name 'Sweyn' and 'ey', which can mean inlet. The name is pronounced Swans-y ), not Swan-sea. The Welsh name first appears in Welsh poems at the beginning of the 13th century, as "Aber Tawy".
The earliest known form of the modern name is Sweynesse, which was used in the first charter granted sometime between 1158 and 1184 by William de Newburgh, 3rd Earl of Warwick. The charter gave Swansea the status of a borough, granting the townsmen, called burgesses certain rights to develop the area. A second charter was granted in 1215 by King John. In this charter, the name appears as Sweyneshe. The town seal which is believed to date from this period names the town as Sweyse.
Following the Norman Conquest, a marcher lordship was created under the title of Gower. It included land around Swansea Bay as far as the River Tawe, the manor of Kilvey beyond the Tawe, and the peninsula itself. Swansea was designated chief town of the lordship and received a borough charter some time between 1158 and 1184 (and a more elaborate one in 1304).
The port of Swansea initially traded in wine, hides, wool, cloth and later in coal. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the combination of port, local coal, and trading links with the West Country, Cornwall and Devon, meant that Swansea was the logical place to site copper smelting works. Smelters were operating by 1720 and proliferated. Following this, more coal mines (everywhere from north-east Gower to Clyne and Llangyfelach) were opened and smelters (mostly along the Tawe valley) were opened and flourished. Over the next century and a half, works were established to process arsenic, zinc and tin and to create tinplate and pottery. The city expanded rapidly in the 18th and 19th centuries, and was termed "Copperopolis".
From the late 17th century to 1801, Swansea's population grew by 500% — the first official census (in 1841) indicated that, with 6,099 inhabitants, Swansea had become significantly larger than Glamorgan's county town, Cardiff, and was the second most populous town in Wales behind Merthyr Tydfil (which had a population of 7,705). However, the census understated Swansea's true size, as much of the built-up area lay outside the contemporary boundaries of the borough; the total population was actually 10,117. Swansea's population was later overtaken by Merthyr in 1821 and by Cardiff in 1881, although in the latter year Swansea once again surpassed Merthyr. Much of Swansea's growth was due to migration from within and beyond Wales — in 1881, more than a third of the borough's population had been born outside Swansea and Glamorgan, and just under a quarter outside Wales.
Through the 20th century, heavy industries in the town declined, leaving the Lower Swansea Valley filled with derelict works and mounds of waste products from them. The Lower Swansea Valley Scheme (which still continues) reclaimed much of the land. The present Enterprise Zone was the result and, of the many original docks, only those outside the city continue to work as docks; North Dock is now Parc Tawe and South Dock became the Marina.
Little city-centre evidence, beyond parts of the road layout, remains from medieval Swansea; its industrial importance made it the target of bombing, known as the Blitz in World War II, and the centre was flattened completely. The city has three Grade One listed buildings, these being the Guildhall, Swansea Castle and the Morriston Tabernacle.
Whilst the city itself has a long history, many of the city centre buildings are post-war as much of the original centre was destroyed by World War II bombing on the 19, 20 and 21 February 1941 (the 'Three Nights Blitz'). Within the city centre are the ruins of the castle, the Marina, the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea Museum, the Dylan Thomas Centre, the Environment Centre, and the Market, which is the largest covered market in Wales. It backs onto the Quadrant Shopping Centre which opened in 1978 and the adjoining St David's Centre opened in 1982. Other notable modern buildings are the BT Tower (formerly the GPO tower) built around 1970, Alexandra House opened in 1976, County Hall opened in July 1982. Swansea Leisure Centre opened in 1977; it has undergone extensive refurbishment which retained elements of the original structure and re-opened in March 2008.
Swansea was granted city status in 1969, to mark Prince Charles's investiture as the Prince of Wales. The announcement was made by the prince on 3 July 1969, during a tour of Wales. It obtained the further right to have a lord mayor in 1982.
The first three maps are provided by A Vision of Britain through Time
These maps were found on Wikimedia Commons
These maps of Glamorgan post-1974 were found on another site and are very useful for sorting out the up-to-date geography of the area