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The City of Spires
Oxford in General
Oxford in General
Date: 16/01/01, updated on 16/01/01 (13 review reads)
Advantages: Vibrant and historic. A mix of ancient and modern. Good public transport
Disadvantages: Bad for parking
Where shall I begin, Oxford is a truly magnificent city and it is where I lived for 18 years before moving to Essex. I therefore feel qualified to give an opinion and guide to England’s primary seat of learning.
Oxford is a beautiful city of cloistered college grounds, pinnacled towers, walks, parks, rivers and provides the visitor with an historic and educational feast.
The city is built around the river Thames, know locally as the river Isis. To the East of the city is the river Cherwell which flows by Magdalen College and the Botanical Gardens. The river provides some excellent punting.
It was the Saxon’s who first settled here at the site of a ford on the Isis, these cattle drovers drove their oxen to the area, liked what they saw and settled. This is where Oxford derives it's name.
The university is probably what Oxford is best known for and was founded in the 13th Centaury with the building of three colleges, University College, Balliol and Merton. Today there are 35 colleges which make up the university. Exploring these colleges can be a time consuming event and you will certainly want to spread your visit over a few days if you want to take it all in. It would take too long to write about each college and so I have chosen just a handful to give you an insight into the university.
Christ Church College is a favourite of mine. It was founded in the 16th Century by Cardinal Wolsey and later re-founded by that most infamous of kings, Henry VIII. The college boasts the largest quadrangle of all the colleges. This quadrangle is known as Tom Quad which in turn takes its name from Tom Tower, the gateway to the college. Within the quadrangle is a large pond wherein stands a statue of the god Mercury. Christ Church adjoins Oxford Cathedral part of which dates back to the 8th century; the spire of this magnificent building was the first to be erected in England.
My next college of note is Unive
rsity College. It was here that the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was a student and a sculpture in his memory is on display. Shelley brought a lot of controversy to the college by the publication of a leaflet about atheism and later a poem which attacked the royalty. University college was founded by William of Durham in 1249 but it is also mentioned that some 400 years earlier Alfred the Great founded a community on the site.
Magdalen College is my third choice, it is built by the banks of the river Cherwell and was founded in 1458 by William of Wayneflete who was the bishop of Winchester. Punting on the river is a wondrous experience and a pass time of many undergraduates. If you can’t punt then you can always hire someone to gently take you down stream to see the sites. Another tradition of those attending the college occurs each year on May Day when students gather on Magdalen Bridge and leap into the waters of the river.
Leaving the magnificent colleges behind there are plenty of other sites to see. Carfax Tower in the heart of the city centre at St Aldates and its junction with the High Street is worthy of a visit. It is all that is left of an original 14th century church which stood on the site. The tower is open to the public and affords excellent views across the city once you have made the climb to the top. Another popular attraction of the Carfax Tower is the clock comprising of the ‘Quarterboys’ (2 male figures) who strike the chimes every 15 minutes. The original quarterboys are now in the Museum of Oxford in St Aldates. This brings me very nicely to Oxford’s other museums.
Perhaps the best known of these is the Ashmolean museum which opened in 1683 and was named after Elias Ashmolean an antiquary. It houses some excellent exhibits including a golden jewel said to be connected to Alfred the Great. The Oxford University museum is also worthy of your time and it also houses the Pitt Rivers museum where you
can view over 14,000 ethnological exhibits. The main museum is mainly dedicated to zoology, entomology and geology and is a wonderful place to explore.
Oxford boasts another first, the botanic gardens. These picturesque gardens in the high street were founded in 1621 by Henry Danvers the Earl of Danby. Here you can explore the flower beds, rockeries and soothing pools. There are several greenhouses too, containing a range of exotic plants and rare species. It is a particularly popular attraction which is open all year round and as far as I know entry is still free.
Another well known Oxford landmark is the Sheldonian Theatre and it too is another first for the city. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren it is the first full-scale building that he designed and was based on the Marcellus theatre in Rome. It is used for University ceremonies and concerts on a regular basis and is a breathtaking building.
For those not keen on sight-seeing or those who just want a break from it then Oxford provides excellent shopping. I don’t intend to go into great depths here; all I need to say is that there is a huge range of shops to chose from and itself provides an energetic experience.
Oxford is notoriously bad for parking but the transport system there is excellent. My advice is to park on the outskirts and use a bus to get to the cities heart. There are several good Park & Ride schemes running to transport you and which provide adequate parking and good value for money.
I myself miss living there as the place exudes character and charm, it really is a beautiful and historic city.