City and administrative headquarters of Cambridgeshire, eastern England, on the River Cam, 80 km/50 mi north of London; population (2001) 117,700. It is the seat of Cambridge University (founded in the 13th century). Industries include the manufacture of computers and electronic products, scientific instruments, and paper, printing, publishing, financial services, and insurance, as well as technological, medical, and telecommunications research. Tourism is also an important industry; there are about 4.1 million visitors each year.
Apart from those of Cambridge University, fine buildings include St Benet's church, with a Saxon tower (c. 1000), the oldest building in Cambridge; the Holy Sepulchre or Round Church (c. 1130, restored in 1841), the oldest of four round churches in England; and the Guildhall (1939). The Fitzwilliam Museum (1816) houses a fine art collection. The Backs is an ancient strip of land between the backs of the colleges and the Cam.
University colleges include Peterhouse, founded in 1284, the oldest college; King's College (1441); Queens' College (1448); Jesus College (1496); St John's College (1511); and Trinity College (1546), the largest college. Emmanuel College chapel was built by Christopher Wren in 1666. The newest college, Robinson, was founded in 1977. The university library (built 1931-34) is a copyright library, and is entitled to a copy of every book published in the UK. Cambridge is also home to part of Anglia Polytechnic University.
Cambridge lies in the low-lying plain on the southern edge of the Fens (a level, low-lying area in eastern England), commanding a ford over the River Cam (sometimes known by its former name Granta). Excavations have uncovered remains of Belgic (1st century BC), Roman (1st-4th century AD), and late-Saxon settlements. By the 8th century it was known as Grontabricc, and was recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) as Cantebrigie. A castle was built here by the Normans. According to tradition the university was founded by scholars who had left Oxford because of conflict with the people of the town. Friction between the townspeople of Cambridge and the scholars of the university led to a riot during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and five people from the town were hanged. The university was a centre of church Reformism in the sixteenth century, and the church reformers Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley were educated there. Oliver Cromwell (leader of the Parliamentarian side in the English Civil War), was a graduate of Sidney Sussex college and the local member of Parliament, but the university was largely Royalist. In the 18th century the university had a reputation for noise and drunkenness, but in the 19th century its reputation was restored when the curriculum was broadened to include natural science and history and the number of students increased greatly. The first two women's colleges, Girton and Newnham, were founded in the 1870s but women did not have full academic status and were not awarded degrees until 1948. Between the 1960s and 1980s many Cambridge University graduates stayed in the area and founded a range of high-technology companies (mostly computer-related). This attracted others and led to the area being dubbed ‘Silicon Fen’, because of the concentration of technological research companies which compares the area to Silicon Valley in California.
King's College Chapel has a richly decorated interior with extravagant fan-vaulting and a carved organ screen which is one of the earliest examples of Italianate Renaissance woodcarving in England. The altarpiece, the Adoration of the Magi by Rubens, was donated to King's in 1961. Bridges spanning the Cam include the Bridge of Sighs - a covered bridge built in 1831 - at St John's College; the Mathematical Bridge at Queens' College, which was originally built in the 18th century without nuts or bolts; Clare Bridge; and St John's Bridge.
The Fitzwilliam Museum was built in the mid-19th century. Its varied collections include Egyptian sarcophagi and mummies, 5th-century black- and red-figure Greek vases, Chinese vases, and sculpture; its collection of paintings includes works by Titian, Hogarth, and Picasso. Other museums include the Folk Museum, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Sedgwick museum which includes the oldest geological collection in the world, the Scott Polar Research Institute, with displays illustrating the expeditions of Captain Scott and other polar adventurers.
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