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Dating as far back as the 11th Century, the long-standing Oxford Castle is much revered for its unmarred history. Birthed on the grounds of an erstwhile Anglo-Saxon settlement, this medieval castle once commanded much military as well as cultural significance. It was built on the orders of a Norman nobleman, hence being a stirring window into the military, penal and administrative legacy of Normandy. However, today, the castle and its many ruins lie nestled in the heart of Oxfordshire in all their antiquated glory. Among the medieval remains of the castle is a motte, a cavernous crypt chamber adorned with Norman capitals and columns and the enchanting St George's Tower. Also renowned for its role as a prison, this ruinous castle speaks of a forgotten heritage interweaved with timeless lores and legend. What is more, is that the castle offers tours led by colorful and costumed characters. Over the years, the castle has been preserved and is something of a time capsule, entrancing visitors with poignant tales of its eventful existence.
Dating from about 1040, St Michael at the North Gate is Oxford's oldest building. It is situated in the middle of the shopping area and is passed every day by thousands of people who scarcely give it a glance. Built during the late Saxon period, the two towers of the original north gate were later connected by the Bocardo prison which held the three martyrs (see Martyrs' Memorial) before they were burned at the stake. Their cell door is in the tower, as are a page from a 1437 set of churchwardens' accounts, some fine examples of church silver (including a 1562 chalice), and the great seal of King James I.
Carfax is where the four principal roads of Oxford meet. This 13th-century tower is now all that remains of the former town church of Oxford: St Martin's. The church became unsafe and was demolished in 1820, and then rebuilt and demolished again in 1896 as part of a road-widening scheme. The tower was actually 20 feet (6.09 meters) taller than we see it today, but because townspeople once amused themselves by throwing small coins at students from the top of the tower, the university authorities had it lowered. The two quarter jacks no longer strike the quarter hours, although visitors can often be seen patiently waiting for the clock to reach the appointed time!
Standing over the entrance to the most famous Oxford college, Tom Tower is a landmark in itself. This imposing octagonal tower with a lead-covered cupola was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1682. It was constructed on top of an archway and turrets dating from the 16th Century and houses Great Tom - the loudest bell in Oxford. Weighing more than seven tons, the bell chimes 101 times at 9.05p every evening to recall not only the 101 students residing in Christ Church when the tower was completed, but also the time by which they were supposed to be in bed.
Known by locals as "The Broad," Broad Street is famous for its landmark locations and the historic events which occurred there. Visitors should expect an educational walk as they pass the area where Protestant Oxford martyrs Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer were burned at the stake. Buy books on the local area or just about any other subject at the world famous Blackwell's which offers more books for sale than any shop in all of Europe. The Balliol College, Trinity College and Exeter College; all part of University College Oxford are also on the street.
Christ Church is the most famous Oxford college, probably the grandest and certainly the most photographed. Founded as Cardinal College in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey, the college became Christ Church in 1545. The college chapel, which is also the cathedral of the Oxford diocese, contains the reconstructed shrine of St. Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford, a rich variety of stained and painted glass including works by Abraham van Linge and Edward Burns-Jones and a rare panel depicting the martyrdom of St. Thomas A. Becket.
In the heart of Oxford, just off Broad Street, lies one of the oldest libraries in all of Europe, the Bodleian Library, which was established in 1602. As an Oxford library, the Bodleian Library boasts of a splendid collection of over 11 million volumes of books, journals, magazines, audio recordings, manuscripts and more and the library is amongst the largest in all of the United Kingdom. Functioning primarily as a reference library, visitors or members cannot rent out most of the material and usually must be kept within the reading rooms. Nonetheless, a visit to this library is truly a treat for a visitor, as, besides the marvelous architecture and the collection, the library also plays host to exhibitions and other events.
Founded in 1868, Keble was the first Oxford college to be built of brick rather than stone, the first to be built by public subscription rather than by a wealthy benefactor and the first to be built with corridors instead of rooms leading off staircases. Keble's red, yellow and blue brickwork provokes a variety of reactions, and certainly makes this college stand out from the others. Inside, the chapel walls are decorated with Venetian mosaics, and to assure their authenticity, craftsmen and an oven were imported from Venice so that the work could be carried out on site.
Synonymous with a world-class education, Oxford University is one of the oldest in the Western world. The town of Oxford is essentially the university's campus, sprinkled with warm-hued historic buildings. Students are associated with individual colleges on enrollment which function as both dorms as well as social and educational spaces. Each of Oxford's colleges has an individual character of its own, though the scholarly atmosphere is common to all. Tradition and modernity go hand in hand at this illustrious institution where timeless customs survive along with contemporary research and education. Colleges like the gothic All Souls College, the architecturally rich Christ Church and the spired Bodleian Library & Weston Library are open to visitors.
Turn the corner into Radcliffe Square and you'll see why the Radcliffe Camera is one of the most admired buildings in Oxford. This was the first round library to be built in Britain by John Radcliffe, who studied at Oxford and left much of his wealth and all of his medical books to the university. Building work started in 1737 and in 1860 it became part of the Bodleian Library. It is now used as reading rooms and is not open to the public, but the exterior view is more than enough to make this building worth visiting.
Merton isn't one of the best known Oxford colleges, but it is one of the largest, and one of three colleges claiming to be the oldest in Oxford (the others are Balliol and University). Founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, the college has the oldest buildings in the entire university and the oldest surviving medieval library.
Blenheim Palace has been the home of the Dukes of Marlborough since 1704, when Queen Anne gave a ruined royal manor and dukedom to John Churchill as a gift for his victory at the battle of Blenheim on the Danube. Winston Churchill also happened to be born here - look out for the Churchill exhibition, which includes the bed he was born on, and many personal belongings, including books, photographs and letters. His tomb is in the graveyard of St Martin's church in nearby Bladon. The palace also sometimes plays host to major concerts.