Matthew Arnold makes it hard to describe Oxford with any spark of originality, as he coined the beautiful phrase the City of the Dreaming Spires. This represents the ambitions of those who have studied within the city’s boundaries and the notable architecture from the Saxon period.
Oxford is known across the planet for its esteemed university. Considered one of the best universities in the world, famous Oxonians include Benazir Bhutto, Stephen Hawking and JRR Tolkien. It is the oldest English-speaking university and has hosted 28 Nobel Prize winners. It is in constant, heated competition with Cambridge University, even down to a particular boat race along the River Thames.
The City of Oxford is relatively small, with only a population of 150,000 or so, earning its city status from the cathedral. It is only the 52nd largest conurbation in England. It is 51 miles from London and 59 miles from Bristol. Oxford is now a base for publishing, IT and science-focused business, taking advantage of the academics who choose to live there.
Oxford started life as Oxenaforda or ford of the oxen. A ford was a place to cross a river before bridges were engineered in any significant number. So, Oxford was born as a crossing point for oxen around about 900 years after Jesus’ birth.
In 2008, there were more than 30 ancient skeletons discovered during building work at St John’s college. This discovery is a symbol of Oxford’s bloody past, as these bodies were a result of a massacre during the sacking of the city by the Danes. Its proximity to London but on the frontier of Midlands and the South West made Oxford a critical military town that was always at the centre of the action.
King Henry II gave Oxonians prestige when he enhanced the city charter to provide citizens with the same status as those enjoyed in London. His preference for Oxford maybe because he was born within its walls.
The Oxford Green Belt has guaranteed the beauty of Oxford. Although this protection of the rural space around the city has boosted house prices in the city centre, it has stopped Oxford turning into another sprawling metropolis that merges with other local villages and towns. It also means there are vast areas of flood-meadows and parkland, with Cutteslowe Park and Hogacre Common Eco Park as standout areas.
Yet, let’s not hide away from what will draw you to Oxford. It is the iconic sites of the city centre and the chance to boat along the river. It is the Carfax Tower and the Bodleian Library, and the most amazing Blackwell’s Bookshop in the world. The Norrington Room in Blackwell’s Bookshop is over 10 thousand square feet of books to browse, read and buy. You will also want to visit one of the first museums to be established in the world, called the Ashmolean Museum, which was first created to house a cabinet of curiosities. You can now see work by Michelangelo, De Vinci, Turner, Picasso, and more.
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