Cambridge (pop. 110,000) is the relaxed and beautiful county town of Cambridgeshire, and is England's most famous university town together with Oxford.
The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209, just a few decades after Oxford University, making it the second oldest university in the English-speaking world. Like "the other place" (as the people refer to Oxford here), the university is divided in independent colleges - 31 in total (see below).
Cambridge University is more renowed than its rival for mathematics and natural sciences, and has produced 80 Nobel-prize winners (33 more than Oxford and the highest number of any university worldwide), 13 British Prime Ministers (12 less than the other place) and 8 Archbishops of Canterbury, among others.
The list of illustrious alumni is endless. Among the most famous are (in chronological order) Desiderius Erasmus, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Oliver Cromwell, John Harvard (founder of Harvard University), John Milton, Isaac Newton, William Pitt the Younger, Lord Byron, Charles Darwin, John Maynard Keynes, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vladimir Nabokov, Lee Kuan Yew (PM of Singapore from 1959 to 1990), Hans Blix, John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) and Rajiv Gandhi.
The region surrounding the city is known as Silicon Fen, one of the most important high-technology centres in Europe. One of the most successful local company is ARM (Acorn RISC Machine), which designs (although does not manufacture) microprocessors for PDAs and handhelds, including those of the Nintendo Game Boy Advance and the Gamepark GP32.
The region of Cambridge was settled since the Bronze Age. There is archeological evidence of a Belgic tribe having settled on Castle Hill in the 1st century BC.
The Romans built a settlement on the River Cam to protect the crossing point of the Via Devana, linking the towns of (present-day) Colchester and Lincoln. Cambridge remained a backwater until the late 9th century, when it started to grow as a trading town under the Danelaw. The Normans built a castle on Castle Hill, as well as the Round Church. The town was then known as Grentabrige or Cantebrigge.
In 1209, students escaping Oxford due to violence between scholars and townspeople fled to Cambridge and formed a University here. The records of the early years of the university were burnt in another riot in 1261, but we know that the oldest college still existing is Peterhouse, founded in 1284 by Hugh Balsham, Bishop of Ely.
Five new colleges were founded in the 14th century (Clare, Pembroke, Tinity Hall, Gonville & Caius and Corpus Christi), then five in the 15th century (Magdalene, King's, Queens', Jesus, St Catharine's), and five more in the 16th century (Christ's, St John's, Trinity, Emmanuel, Sidney Sussex). After that, no new colleges were established until 1800 (Downing).
Women were not allowed to study at Cambridge until the establishment of the first women-only colleges, Girton in 1869, and Newnham in 1871 (the first examination for women were held in 1882). Although Cambridge preceded Oxford by 9 years in admitting women, they were not awarded degrees until 1947, 27 years later than in Oxford. Lucy Cavendish College was the thitrd and last women's college to open in 1965.
Nine new colleges were created after the Second World War, between 1954 and 1979. Two of Cambridge's colleges only accept graduate students (Clare Hall and Darwin).
Colleges of Cambridge University
The 31 colleges are (founding date in brackets):
Unlike Oxford, Cambridge is overwhelmingly dominated by its university, and there are few other sights bar a few museums.
Tourists usually head for King's College Chapel, one of the most remarkable example of late Gothic architecture in England. The second most popular is Trinity College, the largest and richest college in Cambridge. It boasts 31 Nobel prize laureates (among whom 13 winners) and Fields Medallists.
Other interesting buildings include Christ College, Jesus College, Magdalene College, Queens' College, Corpus Christi College, Peterhouse, Pembroke College and Emmanuel College.
If there is one museum not to be missed in town, it is the Fitzwilliam Museum. It houses world-class collections of works of art from the major periods of European history, and antiquities from Egypt, the Near East, Greece and Rome.
Anybody with an interest in 20th-century military history should visit the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, a few miles south of Cambridge. It is one of the five Imperial War Museum branches in England. Displays include aircrafts, ships, tanks, as well as an exhibition on the Battle of Britain.
How to get there
Cambridge is located 80km north of London. The main access roads are the M11 (London-Huntindon), A14 (Cambridge-Ipswich) and A10 (Cambridge-Ely-King's Lynn).
There are trains linking Cambridge to London's King's Cross or Liverpool Street stations (1h10min, £16.40), Peterborough (55min to 1h30min, £11.50), Ely (15min, £3.80), King's Lynn (45min, £8.50), Norwich (1h45min, £12.40), Bury St Edmunds (45min, £7.50) and Ipswich (1h25min, £8.20).
National Express has coaches to London (1h50min to 2h30min, £9), Stansted Airport (45min to 1h, £8.50), Heathrow Airport (2h10min to 3h, £23.50), Northampton (1h40min, £14), Peterborough (1h ,£7.75) and Oxford (3h30min, £16). Many destinations around East Anglia and South England require a change at Stansted Airport and Heathrow Airport, respectively.
Train timetables & reservations