It is noted for its river valleys, historic forests and lauded by romantic poets such as William Wordsworth as well as poets in the Welsh language.
The South Wales Valleys and upland mountain ridges were once a very rural area of great natural beauty. This natural beauty changed to a considerable extent during the early Industrial Revolution when the Glamorgan and Monmouthshire valley districts were exploited for coal and iron. By the 1830s, hundreds of tons of coal were being carried by barge to ports in Cardiff and Newport. In the 1870s, coal was transported by railway networks to Newport Docks, at the time the largest coal exporting docks in the world. By the 1880s coal was being exported from Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Merthyr Tydfil developed around the Dowlais Ironworks which was founded to exploit the locally abundant seams of iron ore, and in time it became the largest iron producing town in the world. The town was also the birthplace of Joseph Parry, composer of the haunting hymn tune Myfanwy.
Newbridge, Risca, Crumlin, Abercarn
and Cwmcarn are all mining towns situated in the Ebbw Vale area of South Wales. The Carboniferous Black Vein coal seams in the area lay 900 feet below the surface and the mining activity associated with it was responsible for many tragic subsurface explosions, roof collapses and mining accidents.
English is the main language spoken in South Wales, but there are also many who speak Welsh. There are many Welsh speaking communities based in the Neath and Swansea valleys such as Ystradgynlais and Ystalyfera which share a heritage with the fellow ex-Anthracite mining areas of eastern Carmarthenshire, as much as the Glamorgan valleys.
Wenglish is the term used to describe the local dialect of these South Wales communities. The dialect is found also in such coastal towns as Barry, as featured in the BBC hit comedy series Gavin and Stacey. Compared with such regional English dialects as those of Yorkshire, the local speech seems to be very little studied or appreciated.
Established pastimes in South Wales include rugby and music. There is a great diversity within the music scene of Wales today, ranging from male voice choirs of the valleys through to hardcore dance which is popular within the Cardiff music scene. Bands such as Lostprophets, Bullet for My Valentine, Feeder, Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers, Funeral for a Friend, The Automatic, Skindred, Foreign Legion, Kids In Glass Houses and The Blackout all come from South Wales.
A powerful literary and music culture was established around Eisteddfodau during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The television and film sectors are fast becoming a major industry in South Wales, with the development, by the BBC, of a vast dedicated production studio in Nantgarw, near Pontypridd, where they filmed the acclaimed Dr Who series. The first completed new film studio for 50 years is due to be opened by Lord Attenborough. Dragon International Film Studios, a huge purpose-built studio complex located alongside the M4 motorway between Bridgend and Llantrisant, has drawn interest from a number of Hollywood director’s looking to utilise facilities within Europe.