The City’s Crowning Glory
A must-visit on the cathedral city circuit, ancient York is surrounded by 3 miles of beautifully restored medieval walls built on Roman foundations; its walltop footpath is one of England’s finest pleasures. Within lies an architecture-rich city that is a joy for strollers, with all paths leading to its famous showpiece cathedral, the Minster. A wonder of Gothic architecture, it is the largest medieval cathedral in Great Britain and the largest north of the Alps: a breath-sapping climb up the central tower’s spiral 275-step staircase provides the chance to appreciate the scale of this massive building (offset by views of the Yorkshire Moors beyond) and the genius of the buttresses that hold it up—a sophisticated engineering feat completed before America was even “discovered.”
The present cathedral was begun in 1220 on a site where previous cathedrals and churches had stood, possibly as far back as 627. It is famous for its 128 intricate stained-glass windows, some of which date back to the Minster’s earliest days as do the elaborately carved Choir Screen and the rich interior of the Chapter House. Churches, like castles, represented power and importance (the archbishop of York is second only to the archbishop of Canterbury in the hierarchy of the Church of England), but even prior to the Minster’s construction, York was an important location.
There was a major Viking settlement here from 867 and some streets still retain their Danish names; ruins dating to the 10th century are at the center of the extremely popular Jorvik Viking Center (Jorvik was the Nordic name for the city) in Coppergate, bringing you back to the year A.D. 975, long before the Minster’s first block was laid.