A city in Wiltshire, England, with a population of approximately 65,000. The cathedral there has the second tallest cathedral spire in Europe, at 404ft. Construction on the cathedral started in 1228, and finished in 1258 minus the spire, which was put on later. It's built on a field on a gravel marsh - allegedly, if it were built a few yards in any other direction, it would have collapsed centuries ago.

Prior to that the city was the Saxon settlement of Old Sarum, about 2 miles north of the current city. This area is a particularly good site for an ancient settlement, close to the sacred sites of Stonehenge and Woodhenge up on Salisbury Plain, yet in a sheltered valley at the confluence of five rivers: the Avon, the Nadder, the Wylye, the Ebble and the Bourne.

Another Salisbury was the capital of Rhodesia, which is now called Zimbabwe.

Salisbury is a very beautiful city in Wiltshire, England. It's officially considered a city because of the cathedral, but would otherwise rate only as a town. (In England, a Cathedral or University automatically makes a place a city.)

For young people, Salisbury can be a very boring place to live. The traditional conservative atmosphere that saturates the city can be very oppressive. There's not much entertainment other than a small Odeon cinema and a very tiny skate park which the city barely tolerates. There are plenty of pubs and bars, but the area around the city has a very high military presence. This means that of an evening, Salisbury is inundated with squaddies who are notoriously violent and unpleasant. Going out in Salisbury is only enjoyable with a group of male friends who will not attract unwanted attention.

For visitors, however, Salisbury is a wonderful place. It is picturesque and full of medieval architecture and pretty parks. It is located in a lovely part of England, very close to Stonehenge and other sites of historic interest. The Cathedral definitely requires a visit, although the surrounding museums can be skipped. The traditional market on a Tuesday and Saturday is worth a look.


As an additional note to the above writeup, I was always told in school that the fifth river to flow through Salisbury was the Till rather than the Ebble. Both are minor tributaries of larger rivers in the area, though it seems that the Till actually joins the others some distance outside of Salisbury itself. So much for education.

Apart from its height, Salisbury Cathedral spire is estimated to be about four and a half feet --- sorry, 1.5 metres --- out of the vertical. It's not clear whether this has always been the case, from the date of its construction, or whether the tilt has happened over subsequent centuries because of subsidence.

In any case, if you go to the place where the north and south transepts cross the main aisle, stand next to one of the four enormous marble pillars which support the tower and the spire above you, and then bend down and squint directly upwards along the pillar itself, you can see a definite twist in the marble cylinders as they ascend.

Doing this has always made me feel slightly uneasy (and vertiginous), regardless of the time over which the cathedral and its spire have remained perfectly stable. It also reminds us, in this mechanised age, of the phenomenal skills and physical courage employed by its mediaeval builders --- master masons, stonemasons, and casual labourers unassisted by tower cranes or anything much else, really --- in putting this huge and beautiful building together.

Here's a final thought:-

Make some kind of estimate of England's GDP over the period when Salisbury cathedral was being built (to the glory of God but also, of course, as a symbol of ecclesiastical power).

Then take another rough shot, at the percentage of this GDP which must have been expended upon doing so.

Now let us ask ourselves:- Supposing we were to apply the same percentage of GDP, today, to the erection of a building such as the headquarters of a bank? What kind of monumental work could we achieve?

It would, I think, be staggering. The most prestigious building you can think of in Britain or indeed the world --- including, for instance, the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, which we might perhaps consider one of our great secular temples --- would surely look fairly pathetic when compared in terms of relative cost, in cash and human endeavour, with Salisbury or any of the great mediaeval cathedrals.

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