Christ Church College - Photo:
Crammed with architectural
jewels – there are hundreds of listed buildings -
Oxford has rightly been called the ‘city of
dreaming spires’. It still is, even today, despite
the traffic, the industry and the encroachment of
Built on the banks of the rivers Cherwell and the
Thames (known around here as the ‘Isis’), it
provides a unique glimpse into England’s Gothic
past. And while its magnificent cathedral is
comparatively small, everything else seems
overwhelmingly ornate, as you might expect from
Britain’s first university city.
Oxford’s story began rather humbly with Saxon
ox-drovers and the founding of St Frideswide’s
nunnery in the 8th century. Its famous university
originated in the early 13th century when an irate
Henry 11 discovered the exiled Thomas Becket had
fled to France and demanded that all English
students return home. After a great deal of strife
many of them ended up in Oxford determined to
recreate their Continental lifestyle.
The city’s rich history was often steeped in
violence. In the 11th century, for example, Danish
immigrants were burned to death by a mob after
seeking sanctuary at St Frideswide’s.
Oxford’s city-centre castle was built in 1071 by
the Norman baron Robert D’Oyly. Here, Henry I's
daughter, Matilda, had to withstand a 10-week
siege and was forced to escape in the snow,
dressed in white. Later Henry II’s queen, Eleanor
of Aquitaine, gave birth to the future King
Richard I in the castle.
The stronghold eventually fell into disrepair only
to become the county jail, then Oxford prison and
now a major hotel-cum- shopping complex.
The city has many beautiful parks and walks,
mostly associated with its riverbanks and –
unsurprisingly - is a haven for boaters and lovers
Oxford's old Prison - Photo:
Perhaps its most revered masterpieces, though, are
its museums and galleries. The Ashmolean Museum of
Art and Archaeology was the world’s first-ever
university museum, created to house the collection
of curiosities of Elias Ashmole in the 17th
century; the Bodleian Library is one of the oldest
libraries in Europe.
The semi-circular Sheldonian Theatre was built in
1699 to the design of Sir Christopher Wren who, at
that time, was Professor of Astronomy at the
The city has many other treasures among which is
the oldest botanic garden in the world.