What I’ve Learned About The Architecture And History Of Oxford

Published on Medium on August 2, 2020


You’ve probably heard the name “Oxford” before. I certainly have. It’s a decent-sized town in England, UK, and home to one of the most prestigious and elite universities in the world, the University of Oxford. But to me, the most fascinating part would be the architecture and history of it. I’ve come across videos and pictures of its buildings and landscapes lately and thus wanted to find out a bit more about the place. I thought that I could take this opportunity to learn by teaching, since others might want to know more about it, too. Furthermore, most of us can’t go on holiday right now, so this could also serve as a “replacement” sightseeing tour. Either way, here’s a first landmark:

Photo by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash


That’s the Hertford Bridge, often also called “the Bridge of Sighs”. It links two parts of Hertford College, one of the colleges of the University of Oxford. It comes with an interesting myth:

There is a false legend saying that many decades ago, a survey of the health of students was taken, and as Hertford College’s students were the heaviest, the college closed off the bridge to force them to take the stairs, giving them extra exercise. However, if the bridge is not used, the students actually climb fewer stairs than if they do use the bridge. (Wikipedia)
Oxford lies next to the river Thames (or Themse in German). It’s the second longest river in the whole of UK! The annual Boat Race (that’s literally the whole name by the way, just “The Boat Race” — creative, isn’t it?), which is a rowing race between students of Cambridge and Oxford, takes place on it. If you’ve seen the movie The Theory Of Everything, you might already know this — there’s a scene where Stephen Hawking is shown as the coxswain during practice. Apparently those races are a really big deal, probably also because of the multiple hundred thousand live viewers as well as the 15 million or more of them watching the race on television.

But let’s get back to architecture:

Photo by Sidharth Bhathia on Unsplash


This, I believe, is a bird’s eye view photo of (part of) Oxford, with university buildings making up the majority of it. The university is the oldest in the English-speaking world and exists since the 12th century, while there is evidence of teaching as early as 1096. The round building in the lower right corner would be the Radcliffe Camera. It used to be a library and was opened in 1749, but is now used as a reading room. The “camera” part of the name has nothing to do with cameras as we know them today, but rather was derived from the latin meaning “small room” or “chamber”. John Radcliffe’s estate apparently funded the construction and maintenance of the library, which explains the other part of the name.

The tower and corresponding buildings around it at the center of the picture would be the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. The tower is its oldest part and dates from around 1270! Here’s a more close up shot:

Photo by Alina Kompa on Unsplash


And the following picture was a bit trickier to look up (took me a couple of picture reverse searches): It’s the front view of The Meadow Building of Christ Church Cathedral. The latter is also the chapel of one of the colleges of the University of Oxford, Christ Church. According to my sources, some of the college undergraduate students live there — not the worst of accommodations, I’d say!

Photo by Darya Tryfanava on Unsplash


In case anyone wants to read even more about the architecture and buildings of Oxford, here’s an interesting overview that focuses on the more modern parts.

I’ll leave you with that — see you next Sunday!