Just before the Easter Holidays, my friends and I decided to visit the famous city of Oxford. Located in central southern England, Oxford is known worldwide for its prestigious university, established in the 12th century. Indeed, the city is built around the university’s many buildings as well as the other university colleges. True to its word, the majority of the buildings are from the Medieval period and the later Victorian era which is testament to the brilliance of human ingenuity that the architecture has been maintained all these years and shows that even though Oxford is part of a fast paced, technologically reliant world, it’s history is eternal.
The bus dropped us outside the Ashmolean Museum, which is where we started exploring Oxford. The museum, which is owned by Oxford University was the first university-museum in the world and it houses a number of antiquities and artworks from all over the world and throughout history. Personally I found the museum one of the best I have ever been to as it housed some impressive antiques and treasures from traditional Greek steles to Roman coins, Ancient hindu statues and even an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus complete with mummy.
To be honest, we had very limited time since we had come as part of a university organized trip and we only had around 5 to 6 hours to explore Oxford as much as we could. The museum was too big to fully explore and would have required most of our time, so we left after seeing about three-quarters of all the exhibits.
We exited the museum to walk around Oxford, seeing the various university college campus buildings. It is no wonder that the poet Matthew Arnold called Oxford the “City of Dreaming Spires” as it is typical of Gothic medieval architecture. Unfortunately, we visited at a very bad time. Not only did we have limited time, where we were forced to choose quantity over quality, but some of the buildings were also closed as some programs were holding their graduation ceremonies in some of these buildings, thus, we did not actually go inside any of these buildings. Some of the Buildings we came across were:
(note: most of the information about these buildings is obtained from the Discover Oxford Architecture, Oxford City Council leaflet)
- 24-26 Connmarket Street
Built sometime between 1386-1398 this three story timber house was typical of the architecture of wealthy citizens in Oxford and Northern Europe.
- The Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Built around the 14th or 15th century. It is both the parish and university churches with long links to the University. The Old Congregation House, (now café) is the University’s oldest building its first administrative centre (1320) with its library above. The tower provides classic views across the heart of the historic University city.
- Divinity School (built around 1488)
This was one of the most beautiful buildings we came across and I think I liked it even more as it seemed like something straight out of one of my favourite video games of all time – Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Anyway, the vaults in the Divinity School are one of the great achievements of European Medieval architecture. The lierne vaults create a star-shaped pattern of an extraordinary delicacy and richness as they connect to 455 carved stone plaques to those who created it and gave money.
- Sheldonian Theatre (built in 1667)
Modelled on a U-shaped open air theatre in ancient Rome, this is Oxford’s first Classical building. Next door, The Museum of Science, originally the Ashmolean Museum (1679-1683), was Britain’s first public museum with a fine porch facing the theatre
- New College (completed sometime in the 14th century)
The New College is one of the most significant Medieval buildings of its kind in Europe and an excellent example of English Perpendicular Gothic style. It was one of the first colleges to lay out its key buildings of Chapel, Hall, Library and sleeping rooms around a quadrangle which became the model for all later colleges.
- St. George’s Tower
A rare example of early stone military architecture. Standing four-storeys high with thick local ragstone walls, it defended the west gate of the Saxon town and later became the tower of St George’s Chapel, the crypt of which survives.
The beauty of all the buildings we saw was simply breathtaking. It was hard to distinguish between important and unimportant buildings because the majority of the buildings were old and regal. It is no wonder then, that some parts of the Harry Potter series were shot here in Oxford, almost every building looked like parts of Hogwarts.
In typical English fashion, we ended our trip at the pub! The Eagle and Child, established in 1650 is most famous for being the place where the literary group which comprised of legendary writers C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien and their fellow writers who called themselves “The Inklings”. It was an honor to simply share a glass of ale with a good friend in the same room where great minds once sat. Life does not get much better.
So, tired but dissatisfied as there was still much left unseen, we returned home. I really liked Oxford and hope that I can return someday.
Till next time!