Past and present: the two faces of Oxford

Oxford is a city of two completely different tales. As soon as you are there, you garner a sense of its incredible history and nobility, which is shown greatly through the luxury of the royal architecture. However, you can also perceive the influence of modern taste and the declining affluence. Oxford, upon my second visit, tells me a story of mystery and grandeur, of simplicity and the interesting visibility of humanity’s changes throughout history. Plenty of magnificent ancient buildings thrust in to the skyline and the air of the city is pervaded by an overwhelming sense of dignity and antiquity.

The architecture of the university buildings suggests a secret world of prosperity. The magnificence of the fine dining facilities, the delicate flowery patterns sealed on the carpets, the exquisite furniture made from rich, crimson, wood inside the old buildings: these are all testament to the exquisite skills of the old-time builders and the flourishing of medieval England.

For almost a thousand years, the marvellous architecture of the Oxford buildings has proudly stood in its place. King Henry II built the university in the 12th century, whilst buildings found in the city can be dated from around the Saxon era. It is overwhelming to think that such intricate architecture has lasted for such an age, and continues to be enjoyed by tourists from all over the world. Wandering around the city, you are able to instantly spot the grand architectures of an ancient age, and see why this city remains undoubtedly a magnificent marvel preserved as part of the Britain’s history. However, you cannot help but wonder what work must have gone in to building a city of such great stature. The blood and sweat of that antique society’s poorer people, the builders and the architects, must be recognised as having been the moving force in creating this magnificent city for the aristocrats. The buildings are themselves stories of mystery and concealment, of dark hidden secrets. It is important to remember how, though it was the rich people of society who were able to enjoy the buildings, they were only able to do so because of the hard work of the city’s poorer residents.

Looking at the city today, it is well known as a centre for intellectuals, teachers, and learners alike. Oxford is a place where modern life continues to flourish around its history. Like other cities, there are plenty of small independent shops alongside more well-known high street chains. Restaurants serving up all different types of international cuisine fill up the city’s spaces, refreshing the tourists who are ravenous after a day of exploration. The newer buildings are smaller in their size, the shop windows decorated elegantly with pretty plant pots filled with beautiful flowers, and people walk across the city with perfect ease. The city life here is simple and easy to feel involved in, letting the city maintain a sense of being current amidst its heavy history.

This is why Oxford is a city of two halfs: it is distinctly ancient and modern all at once. Grand yet also simple, it combines its two aspects in effortless harmony. Gradually, the simplicity of the modern architecture, with all its clean lines and basic visuals, will perhaps flourish and surround the older, grander buildings.

Though the current age continues to take over the city and makes it busy and occupied, and somehow indifferent to its history, it is now a noble place for another generation, and again acquires the blood and sweat of builders. It therefore tells a new story of grandeur and simplicity, of social inequality. The human need of luxury, however, remains the same. Traveling to Oxford brings excitement, and what this city manifest throughout the history, for me, is mystery.


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May 2022
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