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An old cathedral city in the south-west of England near Stonehenge

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Nearby Stonehenge
In South-West England, where five rivers meet, is the old cathedral city of Salisbury. People have been living here for many centuries, but its history actually begins 3 kilometres north, at a hilltop site called "Old Sarum". Archaeologists have found evidence of prehistoric tribes living here, from as early as 5000 years ago. It grew steadily over the years, and was used as a Roman military stronghold in the first century. But a millennium later, the local residents began to encounter problems - as the town got bigger, so did its buildings. This was just after the Norman conquest of England, and they were trying to build both a cathedral, and a castle. Unfortunately, there was so little space that the two huge structures had to be put right next to each other, which caused no end of arguments between the priests and the military leaders.

A 19th century milestone refers to the city as Sarum
The dispute was eventually resolved when the current bishop decided that they would build a new cathedral, just a short distance away. It is this site which became the Salisbury we know today.
Of course, the Cathedral is still standing. It is the city's main landmark, and boasts the tallest church spire in the UK. Incredibly, the main body of the building was constructed in just 38 years - this may not seem quick, but some cathedrals have taken nearly 2 centuries to finish! This achievement was only possible because of Salisbury's rivers, which were vital in transporting the huge stones which were used in the building work.

Salisbury Cathedral
Photo Andrew Dunn

Inside Salisbury Cathedral
Photo Steve Cadman
Next-door is the Cathedral Close, a collection of fine historic buildings, and well-kept lawns. Famous visitors to this place include Handel, the renowned German composer, and King Charles II, who fled here from London during the time of the Great Plague.

Beautiful buildings in the Cathedral Close
Photo Charles D P Miller
Just 15 kilometres away from the city, out in the beautiful green expanse of Salisbury Plain, lies the world-famous monument of Stonehenge. The collection of ancient standing stones has remained a mystery for thousands of years. Visitors come from far and wide to inspect the rocks, and guess what their purpose might have been - but it's possible that we'll never know.

The ring of stones at Stonehenge
Photo garethwiscombe
People who are interested in the stone monument will enjoy a visit to Salisbury museum, back in the city. It has a permanent Stonehenge section, which may shed more light on the subject. Also on display is the skeleton of a 4000-year-old man called the "Amesbury Archer", which was discovered nearby. The name comes from the large amount of arrowheads which were found close to his grave. Some historians have guessed that he was an important man in his time, who was perhaps involved in the construction of Stonehenge - but unfortunately, nobody knows for sure.
With all these old structures and monuments, the city has a very traditional feel. Many of its buildings are several centuries old, and the town centre still features regular markets, as it has done for 800 years. So for a break from England's bigger, noisier, more modern cities, make a visit to Salisbury, and get a glimpse of the country as it once was.

Salisbury Market and the 15th century Poultry Cross, originally marking the section of the market trading in poultry
Photo Kaihsu

Queen Elizabeth Gardens showing part of the River Avon diverted through the gardens
Photo Richard Avery
Visitor Information
Salisbury Cathedral is open to visitors Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm (plus 12noon to 4pm on Sundays). Tel: 01722 555 120

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