Salisbury (pop. 39,000, pronounced 'Sauls-bree') is the main town of rural Wiltshire. Its celebrated gothic cathedral is one of the finest in the country.
Salisbury has been inhabited since at least 300BC. It developed into the Roman fort of Sorbiodunum, later known as (Old) Sarum. Cynric, king of Wessex, took the place in 552 and became one of the most important town of the Saxon kingdom.
The Normans built a wooden castle in 1067 and replaced it by a stone keep in 1100. A first 53m-high cathedral was constructed by Bishop Osmund between 1075 and 1092, and was extended in 1120. Old Sarum was an uncomfortable, windswept and barren place, and in 1217 Bishop Richard Poore asked the Pope to move the cathedral to a more convenient place near the confluence of the Avon, Nadder, Ebble, Wylye (pronounced 'Why-lee') and Bourne Rivers, and New Sarum was founded.
The new cathedral was errected between 1220 and 1258, and this relatively fast construction allowed for a remarkably uniform style. The 123m spire was added between 1285 and 1315.
Old Sarum's cathedral was demolished in 1331. New Sarum became known as Salisbury from the name of the Earl who ruled over the city.
The first market was held at Salisbury's current Market square in 1219, and market has been held there twice a week (on Tuesdays and Saturdays) from 1361 to this day.
Salisbury is a nice and airy market town, suitable for strolls and shopping. The oldest houses in town are Russel's (built in 1306) and John A'Port's (built in 1425). Fish Row, behind the Market Square, has some beautiful traditional houses as well.
Salisbury Cathedral is the most prominent tourist attraction. The main points of interest are the Trinty Chapel, the Sudan Chapel, the Shrine of St Osmund, the tombs of William Longespree (son of king Henry II who was present at the signing of the Magna Carta), Sir Richard Mompesson, Edward Seymour and Lady Catherine Grey (sister of Jane Grey, Queen of England for 13 days in 1553). The cathedral's library contains one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta.
In the Cathedral Close is the fine 18th-century Mompesson House (open Sat-Wed, 11am-5pm, entry £4), which featured in the film Sense and Sensibility with Hugh Grant.
Another religious edifice well worth a look is St Thomas's Church, built for cathedral workmen in 1219 and mostly reconstructed in the 15th century. Its masterpiece is the judgement-day painting of 1470.
You may also consider to visit Wilton House, an elegant stately home a few kilometers west of Salisbury.
How to get there
Salibury is at the rail junction between the London-Exeter and Bristol-Portsmouth-Brighton lines. Trains take 1h30min from London Waterloo (£23.90), 1h45min from Exeter (£31.90), 1h15min from Bristol (£17.10), 30min from Southampton (£6.10), 1h15min from Portsmouth (£14.80) and 2h15min from Brighton (£25.40).
National Express buses connect Salisbury to London (3h, £18.50), Bristol (2h, £9.25) and Bath (1h30, £9.25).