In the heart of the English countryside lies a serene and magical city that has captivated the imagination of visitors for centuries. Renowned throughout the world as a centre of academic excellence, the ‘city of dreaming spires’ is the alma mater of many famous writers, scientists, musicians and politicians.

Nowadays, academic, historical, commercial and industrial interests flourish alongside each other in this vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis. With its medieval chapels and cloisters, cobbled streets and narrow passageways, world-class museums and galleries, charming markets and quaint English pubs: this is the City of Oxford.

Oxford University and the Colleges

Image shows the Oxford skyline, including All Souls College and the Sheldonian Theatre.

During your stay in Oxford, you will have the opportunity to explore the famous Colleges comprising Oxford University.  In the centre of the City there are around 20 Colleges laid out in traditional style, with limestone buildings arranged around beautifully kept quadrangles. Outside the city centre, there are another 20 Colleges and Permanent Private Halls.  For an interactive online tour you can visit www.chem.ox.ac.uk/oxfordtour.

The Bodleian Library

Image shows one of the entrances to the Bodleian.

Founded in 1602 and regarded as a masterpiece of English Gothic architecture, the Bodleian is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and today serves as the main research library of the University of Oxford.  The two most famous sections of the library are Duke Humfrey’s Library: the oldest section of the library (it was also used in the ‘Harry Potter’ films as the library!); and the Radcliffe Camera: a domed classical building.

The University Parks

Image shows the University Parks duck pond.

The Oxford University Parks, more normally referred to as the ‘University Parks’ or just ‘The Parks’, is one large parkland area slightly northeast of the City centre (10 minutes walk). It is open to the public during the day, and boasts beautiful gardens, large sports fields and a cricket pavilion.

The Botanic Gardens

Image shows a lily in the botanic gardens.

The University of Oxford Botanic Gardens, the oldest Botanic Gardens in Great Britain, and the third oldest scientific garden in the world, was founded in 1621 as a physic (medicine) garden growing plants for medicinal research.  Today it contains over 8,000 different plant species on 1.8 hectares (4 ½ acres). It is one of the most diverse yet compact collections of plants in the world and includes representatives from over 90% of the higher plant families.

The Bridge of Sighs

Image shows the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford.

The main buildings at Hertford College are linked together by a corridor called the “Bridge of Sighs,” built in 1913-14 and named after the Ponte dei Sospiri in Venice.

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

Image shows the exterior of the Ashmolean.

The Ashmolean Museum on Beaumont Street, is the world’s first university museum. Its first building was built in 1678-1683 to house the collection or cabinet of curiosities Elias Ashmole gave Oxford University in 1677 – the ones he had collected himself as well as those he had acquired from the gardeners, travellers and collectors John Tradescant the Elder and his son of the same name. The collection included antique coins, books, engravings, geological specimens, and zoological specimens – one of which was the stuffed body of the last Dodo ever seen in Europe, but by 1755 it was so moth-eaten it was destroyed, except for its head and one claw. The museum opened on 6 June 1683, with naturalist Robert Plot as the first keeper.

The present building dates from 1845. It was designed by Charles Cockerell in a classical style and stands on Beaumont Street. One wing of the building is occupied by the Taylor Institution, the modern languages faculty of the University. The main museum contains the original collections of Elias Ashmole and John Tradescant (father and son), as well as huge collections of archaeology specimens and fine art. It has one of the best collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, majolica pottery and English silver. The archaeology department includes the bequest of Sir Arthur Evans and so has an excellent collection of Greek and Minoan pottery.

Pitt Rivers Museum

Image shows the interior of the Pitt Rivers museum.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is a museum displaying the archaeological and anthropological collections of the University of Oxford. The museum is located to the east of Oxford on South Parks Road by the Radcliffe Science Library and University Museum of Natural History, and can only be accessed through that building.

The museum was founded in 1884 by General Augustus Pitt Rivers, who donated his collection to the University of Oxford with the condition that a permanent lecturer in anthropology must be appointed. Museum staff are involved in anthropology teaching at the University even today.

The original donation consisted of approximately 20,000 items, which have now grown to 500,000 items, many of which have been donated by travellers, scholars and missionaries.

The museum’s collection is arranged thematically, according to how the objects were used, rather than according to their age or origin. This layout owes a lot to the theories of General Pitt Rivers himself, who intended for his collection to show progression in design and evolution in human culture from simple to complex. Since this concept is no longer accepted in anthropology, the displays are today intended to celebrate cultural diversity. For more information see www.prm.ox.ac.uk.

Oxford Castle

Image shows the gatehouse of Oxford Castle.

Built in 1071, Oxford Castle served as a court and gaol until 1770. The site again became a prison in 1878, eventually closing in 1996. Now the Castle and Prison are open to visitors.  The Castle Story takes visitors on a journey through 600 years of history, and includes a Saxon Tower, the Crypt of St. George’s Chapel and the original motte (mound) which formed the basis of the Castle’s motte and bailey structure.  Visitors can relive the events of the Castle’s history.  The Prison Story tells the tale of Oxford’s gaol from the 17th – 20th Century. Discover the lives and words of the prisoners from the past.

Image credit: college; Bodleian; University Parks; Botanic Gardens; Bridge of Sighs; Ashmolean; Pitt Rivers; Oxford Castle.

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