We’re willing to bet that more than a few of you recognize the room above, not by its real name, the Great Hall of Christ Church College in Oxford, but as it appears in the Harry Potter series of films where it is the Hogwarts’ Dining Hall. Here is another view looking back toward its entrance.
While it was July when we visited, enough students and those there for specific seminars were in residence so that it was set for the midday meal, even without Hogwarts in attendance.
We had three days in Oxford and thereabouts and thoroughly loved it. Of course famous for its colleges, Oxford is also a wonderful place to just wander and explore as a whole. The immediate and historic downtown wraps around this spire, a monument to the Oxford Martyrs who were burned at the stake nearby in the 16th century. Today it seems to be where youth collect at all hours of the day and night.
Many of the streets are free of all auto traffic and bicycles abound. Notice them lining the street to the left in the photo below.
Oxford is not quite Amsterdam for bikes, where it seems as though the city must have bought up all the abandoned bikes of Eastern Europe and scattered them everywhere just for effect. Certainly the majority of citizens (and tourists) are walking or riding as opposed to driving to get to their locations. We love cities with a pedestrian/bicycle scale. In part that is why college towns have so much appeal for us.
There are several rather famous bars in the downtown area, including The White Horse, down a short flight of stairs from the street and one that Winston Churchill was known to visit. It was also a favorite hangout of Bill Clinton’s when he was a student here. That is a considerably less famous patron at the bar.
Typical of the downtown area is the Covered Market, built in 1770, occupying an entire city block, and long home to every kind of shop, but most famously as the sales outlet for the slaughterhouses traditionally located behind the store fronts. Of course things are much more genteel today with hand goods and clothing as featured as all varieties of food.
Also located in the commercial downtown is Blackwell’s Bookstore, the largest in all of Europe and the bookstore of last resort for literature graduate students in search of rare scholarly tomes. When you couldn’t find it anywhere else, you could always send an order to Blackwell’s and weeks later the books would arrive no matter where you were!
In a somewhat related vein, it is also home to the Bodleian Library, certainly one of the most famous in the entire world and the home to countless rare books and manuscripts. The building itself was completed at the end of the fifteenth century and served initially as the divinity school with the library built later above it. Its ground floor and original divinity school has one of the most magnificent and detailed ceilings in all of England.
Spread across a number of other buildings as well, its collection now includes 8.5 million items and it recently opened a new facility in nearby Swindon, which has 153 miles of shelving and will be able to hold almost 13 million items.
Oxford University is made up of thirty-nine individual colleges, and only in fairly recent times has there been much coordination and cooperation between them. Unlike American universities, they all operate quite independently and the diversity of focus and concentration is as broad as one can imagine. In addition, the colleges all essentially operate under a tutorial system where students meet with their tutors once a week and present papers on prescribed topics. And the list of the famous “Who’s Who” have attended Oxford is, of course, nearly endless.
But let’s have a look at the more famous of the colleges themselves. Almost all have entrances that lead to courtyards surrounded by the rooms the students live and study in. This is the entrance to Oriel College with the courtyard visible beyond the front door.
This is a view of the interior courtyard at Jesus College and the windows are those of student rooms.
Here is part of the courtyard of Balliol College, abloom in lavender
and the dining hall at the same college.
We often found small details in the architecture that seemed whimsical and appropriate, such as this one just outside the dining hall above.
Hertford College is perhaps most famous for its Bridge of Sighs in imitation of the renowned one in Venice, though the similarities are minimal.
Among the largest and justifiably famous of the colleges is Christ Church College, home to the Hogwarts’ Dining Hall as mentioned above. Its entrance from the street is grand,
its main courtyard enormous,
and its extended grounds large enough for a multitude of football games, all played at the same time.
Its cathedral, while not as large as many in England, is beautiful, tranquil and historic.
Like Freiburg in Germany, Strasburg in Austria, or Lucca in Italy, Oxford is somewhere we would seriously consider when we start spending longer periods in cities and traveling less.