Cambridge is one of Britain’s oldest and most picturesque towns. Its world famous university nestles on the banks of the Cam River.
Over three million visitors a year flock to gaze at the architectural glory of the colleges, wander through the Botanic Gardens, and punt lazily down the river on a summer’s day.
Cambridge has a rich history. It was first founded by Iron Age settlers and later used by the Romans as an important military crossroads. The Normans occupied the town and fortified it, building a castle to fend off the rebelling Saxons.
The university was first established in the 13th century, by a group of scholars who deserted Oxford after clashing with the townspeople.
Peterhouse was the first college, founded in 1284 by the Bishop of Ely. The 1300’s were a period of rapid growth with colleges, including Clare, Pembroke and Caius, springing up all over the town.
The university was a centre of Renaissance learning and Reformation theology, enhanced by Henry VIII’s patronage. In 1546 he fused two existing colleges into Trinity, a new super college designed to rival Oxford’s Christchurch.
Cambridge academics refuse to call Oxford by name, referring to it derisively as “The Other Place.” Today there are 31 colleges, the newest being Robinson which was funded by a local millionaire in 1977. The university is one of the world leaders in scientific research.
The colleges are the town’s major tourist attraction, representing over 700 years of British architectural excellence. Money was no issue when these buildings were erected and they were designed by the top architects of the day. Kings College was founded in 1441 by Henry VI, who ordered that part of the town be demolished to create space. Its magnificent chapel is a must see for any visitor.
Stroll along the river banks and uncover more of Cambridge’s architectural treasures. Mathematical Bridge in Queen’s College was apparently built on pure mathematical principles without nails or screws. Experts are dubious about this claim, as when it was taken down for repairs it proved impossible to put it back together without them!
The Fitzwilliam Museum is a mecca for art lovers. It boasts an outstanding collection of antiquities and paintings including Egyptian items, coins and manuscripts and works by masters such as Canaletto, Hogarth and Cezanne.
The Sedgwick Museum of Geology displays fossils from all over the world and awesome collections of mounted skeletons of dinosaurs, mammals and reptiles. Not for the faint hearted!
A walk through the Botanic Gardens is a pleasure whatever the weather. No summer visit is complete without a punting trip down the Cam.
The mechanics of punting can prove difficult to master. One person stands at the back and attempts to push the boat along without falling in the river. If the thought of an icy dip in the Cam does not fill you with pleasure, take the more relaxing alternative and hire a chauffeur driven punt for the occasion.
Get learned at Cambridge University:
Catch a service in Kings College Chapel.
Puzzle over the Mathematical Bridge.
Punt down the Cam River.
Immerse yourself in history at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
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