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The name of this Fenland city means 'eel island', a reference to the staple diet of its previous inhabitants, the Saxons. It was also an island before the Fens were drained in modern times. Here, Cambridgeshire's most famous local hero, Hereward the Wake, held out against the Normans.
The city's landmark cathedral dominates the landscape for many miles and was the work of Simeon, Abbot of Ely, in the 11th century. In 1322 the building's main tower collapsed but was replaced by its present octagonal lantern tower designed by the monk Alan de Walsingham. The nave, measuring 248ft long, is one of the longest in England.
The Ely Porta, a three-storey gatehouse, was home to Oliver Cromwell from 1636 to 1647, while King's School, founded in the late 10th century, is one of Britain's oldest school. Its pupil-roll included Edward the Confessor.
Near the city is Wicken Fen, the country's oldest nature reserve. Owned by the National Trust it gives visitors some idea of what the Fens were like before they were drained an atmospheric cocktail of reeds, waterways, woods and meadows.
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