Today I concluded my personal walking tour of Oxford. The weather has been fine but is now threatening rain. In the course of my walks around the town I believe that I saw and photographed many of the 38 separate colleges that make up this, the oldest English university in the world. (Only the university in Bologna Italy is older of those which have functioned continuously; it was founded in 1088. There is no proven time of origin for Oxford University but it is known that some people were being educated in 1096.
Oxford’s organization and method are quite different from universities we know in the United States. Each of the colleges is self-governed. Students live, dine and study in their college’s enormous, ancient buildings. Each year around 20,000 students apply for admission and fewer than 3300 are admitted. I noticed a varied student body representing all parts of the world, based on the many languages and accents I heard. My timing was off when I chose to be here this week because this is the week when prospective students and their parents are invited to tour the colleges, meaning tourists weren’t allowed into the college grounds at all. (Normally tourists can enter the “quads” for a few hours each week day.)
One interesting thing I learned and then observed is that to be awarded a degree students must pass one last final exam and that is given only in one building called the Examination School. Students are traditionally required to wear black suits with white shirts and bow ties. The young women are dressed in much the same fashion. Yesterday I witnessed many of them flocking into their exams. A little later I learned about a tradition for those who pass: they are sprayed with whipped cream and sticky stuff and then have large pieces of confetti thrown on them. Many of the streets in the middle of the town had lots of confetti piled in the gutters.
I learned why I was finding all the colleges closed to visitors when I went to Christ Church College this morning. I had planned to visit that one today so I’d have lots of time there. In addition to the beautiful building and the green quad each of the colleges has, Christ Church has two other sights visitors enjoy. The cathedral of Oxford is literally attached to the college. The dining hall of Christ Church college is the one seen in the Harry Potter films. It was a bit disappointing, then, to learn that all of it was closed to tourists until Friday (when I’ll be gone).
There is a war memorial garden next to the college which affords nice views of the cathedral and the college buildings. I was allowed to enter that today and found some lovely gardens. I also happened upon one college, the one named Jesus College, when the guard was not at his post. I sneaked in and took some pictures so I can show you at least one “inside the walls.”
I’ve enjoyed my time here. The city is well-run, with excellent bus transportation and lots of activities of all types offered to residents and visitors. There were loads of visitors this week including many school groups speaking a variety of languages. (Teenagers are the same everywhere, aren’t they?)
Tomorrow I’m off to Porto, Portugal. The two cities I selected for this trip are quite different from one another. I haven’t been to Porto before. I’m excited by all I’ve read and heard about it. I’ll be sending photos and reports so come back soon.
P.S. Besides the colleges I saw many other interesting things in Oxford. Old churches, beautiful displays of flowers on many buildings, lovely gardens, the “punts” lined up in the river by “gondoliers” offering romantic rides. Here are a few other pictures I took this week.
Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s article about Oxford University.