Cambridge, the most attractive town in the east of England, is world-famous as the seat of a venerable university. The town takes its name from a bridge over the river Cam. In the 13th century, students from Oxford settled here, and soon the first college, Peterhouse, was founded. By 1352 there were already seven colleges. What is special about the college system, as distinct from the large, impersonal universities on the Continent, is that students live, study and eat within their colleges, and receive more personal attention in their studies. Each student has an in-house tutor, a professor who guides his or her academic progress; the most important unit of instruction here is not a lecture, but a tutorial. The college system has crossed the Atlantic and is emulated, if not exactly copied, at such elite American universities as Harvard and Yale.
Some of the university’s most traditional colleges are St. John’s College, Queen’s College, Trinity College and King’s College, where many original buildings survive to remind us that the colleges were originally organized on the model of monasteries. This is why all of the historical colleges have cloisters around which are grouped living quarters, dining halls and lecture halls.
Henry VI laid the cornerstone of King’s College Chapel in 1446, starting the construction of one of the loveliest Late Gothic buildings in the land with richly decorated windows in the Perpendicular style and a fan vaulting ceiling 78 feet high (24 m). In 1959, the chapel was presented with a painting by Rubens, The Adoration of the Magi, which now adorns the altar. Try to visit in the late afternoon when the college choir is singing evensong.
Musts on a walk around the city include the Bridge of Sighs at St. John’s College and the Mathematical Bridge at Queen’s College; the latter is so named because the balance of forces had been calculated so precisely that no nails were needed for its construction.
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge’s leading museum, displays, in addition to Egyptian, Greek and Roman collections, a notable collection of paintings that includes works by leading British artists such as Hogarth, Turner and Gainsborough.
The Holy Sepulchre church in Bridge Street, one of only four round churches remaining in England today and certainly the oldest (c. 1130), is well worth a visit.