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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Oxford: A class act
Radiohead
One of the biggest bands in the land hails from Oxford

As the final six cities battle it out to become European city of culture 2008, author Emma Lee-Potter explains why her native city of Oxford tops the league table.
Oxford is one of the most beguiling cities in Europe. It's got everything - fine architecture, breathtaking views and a reputation for academic excellence second to none.

Brideshead Revisited
Brideshead: Privilege and pain for Oxford chums
On these grounds alone, Oxford would be a worthy contender for the title of European Capital of Culture for 2008.

But 21st Century Oxford has far more to offer than the elitist Brideshead Revisited image of old - these days it's probably just as famous for Inspector Morse and BMW's stylish new Mini.

Not only is the city in the forefront of the latest scientific research, but it also has a rich motoring heritage. William Morris launched the UK's first mass-produced car in Oxford in the 1920s and the motor industry is still vital to the city's economy today.

Inspector Morse
Inspector Morse: Mourned to this day
Rock groups Radiohead and Supergrass started out here while the Museum of Modern Art hosts some of the finest exhibitions of contemporary painting, sculpture and photography from around the world. The Independent described it as one of Europe's most influential museums.

And where else, other than Oxford, could you see a 25-foot fibreglass shark crashing through the roof of a semi? Sculptor John Buckley's shark caused a storm of controversy when it first appeared in 1986, yet it is now recognised as a unique piece of art.

Ancient seat of learning

Oxford dates back to Saxon times and is named after a river crossing. It began to flourish as an academic centre in the 12th Century and the first college, University, was founded in 1249.

Spires
Inspiration within, beauty without
Now there are 39 colleges scattered throughout the city, all with their own traditions and idiosyncrasies.

Oxford has had its fair share of social and economic problems over the years but it has always been associated with creativity, ideas and innovation.

It has inspired some of our greatest writers. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, was a mathematics don at Christ Church; the Inklings - a group of writers that included CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien - used to discuss their work in the Eagle and Child pub in St Giles; and Matthew Arnold immortalised the city's "dreaming spires".

Alice
An Oxford don penned Alice's adventures
The best-known architects of their age created some of the country's most inspiring buildings here. They range from Sir Christopher Wren's magnificent Sheldonian Theatre, used for university ceremonies, to James Gibbs' Radcliffe Camera, a domed library built to house medical and scientific books.

There are innovative new buildings too, like the Said Business School, which opened this year, and the Sainsbury Building, built in 1982.

Centre of innovation

Oxford is renowned for doing things first. It boasts the UK's oldest botanic garden, for instance, as well as the Ashmolean, the first public museum in the world. And it was at Oxford's Radcliffe Infirmary in 1941 that penicillin was first used on a patient, founding the science of antibiotics.

Oxford
The city has long been a tourist magnet
There's no doubt that today's Oxford is a city of excellence, a stunning showcase for the UK that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world every year. But far from being content to rest on its laurels, it's brimming with dynamic new ideas for the future.

Oxford has produced more children's writers than anywhere else in the UK, from Lewis Carroll through to Philip Pullman, who wrote the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Now it wants to establish a children's literary festival to celebrate their achievements and encourage new writers.

Philip Pullman: Whitbread Book of the Year winner
Philip Pullman: Latest of its literary luminaries
The city already runs Artweeks, the largest visual arts festival of its kind in the country - offering the chance to see local artists at work in their studios - and a series of Fun in the Parks days throughout the year, complete with fairs, music and multicultural activities.

Should it take out the title, in 2008 there are plans for a 365-day festival celebrating the city's talent, both old and new.

Oxford's bid also includes proposals to revitalise the city's waterways and to create a marina on the site of an ugly city centre car park.

Perhaps the best thing of all about Oxford is the passion that it inspires in visitors and residents alike. The novelist Ian McEwan, who has lived in the city for many years, describes it as a "real jewel" while crime writer PD James says "the air buzzes with intellectual argument and laughter".

The place is a winner.


Results of your vote into European city of cultureCulture vote
Results of your voting on UK cultural cities
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17 May 02 | UK
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