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December 12, 2014

England: Oxford


Inside the walls at All Souls College:  All Souls has no undergraduates.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Souls_College,_Oxford

Inside the walls at All Souls College: All Souls has no undergraduates. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Souls_College,_Oxford

Hectic and urban, the city of Oxford is an ever-interesting place to visit. Though there’s more to see than the synonymous school, Oxford is first and foremost a university town. With teaching in some form going for over 900 years, Oxford lays claim to being the oldest university in the English-speaking world. It is considered to be the second oldest university in continuous operation on the planet.

Oxford is composed of 38 colleges and 6 permanent private halls. The colleges function both as dormitory housing for the students and small teaching colleges. Unlike the large freshman classes inside cavernous lecture halls typical of large universities, most undergraduate teaching at Oxford is organized around tutorials at the self-governing colleges and halls. As undergraduates progress towards graduation, the shared faculties and departments of Oxford University support their advanced studies with lectures and laboratory facilities. Even the application process for Oxford is different; prospective students apply to colleges and not to the university.

The Radcliffe Camera (left) and nearby All Souls College (right)

The Radcliffe Camera (left) and nearby All Souls College (right)

Radcliffe Camera

Radcliffe Camera

College-centric education at Oxford has architectural consequences. The older colleges, some with founding dates in the 13th Century, have impressive street fronts. Historically, these buildings were walled and gated off from the city streets. The walls kept the riff-raff out and separated the students from corrupting influences of the residents of the city.

Inside the colleges’ compounds are self-contained educational facilities. There are rooms for students, a chapel, a dining hall, the kitchen, lounges, etc. Form follows function and the basic layout of the different colleges is typically similar. A visitor to Oxford can usually see the inside of the compounds. Depending on whether classes are in session, the gates of many colleges are open for visits. Tourists can step through colleges’ gate, have a look inside, and visualize how students have lived in Oxford through the centuries.

"Did not inhale," a little bit of American history in Oxford:  Students at Oxford are no longer buffered from the corrupting influences of the city as they once were.

“Did not inhale,” a little bit of American history in Oxford: Students at Oxford are no longer buffered from the corrupting influences of the city as they once were.

Beyond the colleges, there’s plenty more to see in Oxford. I recommend climbing the tower of University Church of St Mary the Virgin to get the best view of the iconic Radcliffe Camera. Nearby, the Bodleian Library, All Souls College, and other interesting old university buildings are worthy of a visit. Oxford has historical sites are at every turn.

With tons of things to see in a compact area guided walking tours are a popular way to get the most out of Oxford. The tours are a godsend for visitors with limited time. In Oxford a guided tour is a great way to learn about the history of the city, the university, and its colleges. Tours also give a chance to see things that might otherwise escape notice. Guides show visitors the places in Oxford that inspired Charles Dodgson’s (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) as he penned Alice in Wonderland, the hangouts where J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and the Inklings discussed their fantastical stories, and the locations used to film the Harry Potter movies.

Tourists jam Christchurch College during the high season.

Tourists jam Christchurch College during the high season.

Becky's tries her hand at flying broom.  It is not as easy as it looks in the Harry Potter movies.

Becky’s tries her hand at flying broom. It is not as easy as it looks in the Harry Potter movies.

Oxford has a lot to interest a tourist. Indeed, if someone planning a trip to England asked me, which they surely won’t, I’d suggest visiting one of the historic university towns, either Oxford or Cambridge, as the best choice for a second city stop outside of London. Both cities are about an hour away from London by train and are easy to visit. There’s more to England than London; Oxford is a good start towards seeing the rest of the country.

The grounds at Merton College:  Author J. R. R. Tolkien was Merton Professor of English Language and Literature and Fellow of Merton from 1945 to 1959.

The grounds at Magdalen College

Merton College

Magdalen College

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DSC_9155_HDR-Edit-Edit-Edit-Edit-Edit

Inside a typical dining hall

Inside a typical dining hall

The Oxford area is also famous for its car production.

The Oxford area is also famous for its car production.

Morris Oxford

Morris Oxford

Fan vaulting inside the Bodleian Library

Fan vaulting inside the Divinity School at the Bodleian Library

The Convocation House which hosted Parliament for one week in 1681

The Convocation House which hosted Parliament for one week in 1681

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