This ancient seat of learning has been at the forefront of intellectual and scientific development ever since it was first established in the 12th century. Explore the lanes of the ’City of Dreaming Spires’ and perhaps visit one of the colleges to better appreciate how student life has been played out here ever since medieval times. With their quadrangles, surrounded by accommodation, dining hall, chapel and library, and always incorporating a lovely garden, the colleges are havens of tranquility at the very heart of the city. The University Church, Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library (with the amazing Divinity School) form one of the most stunning architectural ensembles in Europe.
PHILOSOPHERS AND SCIENTISTS
Learn more about some of the great Oxford philosophers and scientists who have helped forge British, if not world history. It was while Master of Balliol that John Wycliffe first formulated the ideas of the Protestant Reformation in around 1360. Three centuries later, at Christ Church, John Locke spearheaded the Enlightenment. Back in the 13th century, in his laboratory on a bridge over the Thames, Franciscan friar Roger Bacon had set about proving scientific theories and inventing the magnifying glass; 450 years after that, at Wadham College, Robert Hooke finally achieved the magnification required to identify living cells. Then, in the 20th century, an international team of scientists set about unlocking the powers of penicillin. The powers of thought and innovation continue to place Oxford at or near the very top of the university league table.
The city’s world-class academic pedigree is also reflected in its superb museums, notably the Ashmolean, University Museum (including the fabulously quirky Pitt-Rivers) and the Museum of the History of Science). And at the centre of it all is the world-famous Bodleian Library with its vast collection of books and documents. Literary heritage includes the works the ‘father of fantasy’ JRR Tolkien and his friend CS Lewis, not forgetting Lewis Carrol and his Alice in Wonderland, a story inspired by people, places and objects of Oxford. And then, of course, there was Inspector Morse, created by local author Colin Dexter.
Located just outside Oxford, this World Heritage Site was a gift from Queen Anne to the 1st Duke of Marlborough as thanks from a grateful nation for the duke’s military triumphs against the French and Bavarians during the War of the Spanish Succession at the beginning of the 18th century. It has a magnificent interior and the grounds are the work of the great landscape architect Lancelot Capability Brown. Blenheim was also the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill, and a special permanent exhibition celebrates his life and achievements.