Described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘one of the great architectural experiences of Europe’, Durham Cathedral is renowned as a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture.
It was begun in 1093 and largely completed within 40 years. The Cathedral is built on a peninsula of land created by a loop in the River Wear and the west end towers over a precipitous gorge. The northern front of the Cathedral faces onto Palace green and here the full 496 foot (143 metres) length from west to east can be seen.
Durham Cathedral is the only cathedral in England to retain almost all of its Norman craftsmanship, and one of few to preserve the unity and integrity of its original design. The nave, quire and transepts are all Norman and the nave boasts what is believed to be the world’s first structural pointed arch.
At the west end is the twelfth-century late Norman style Galilee Chapel and at the east end the thirteenth-century Chapel of the Nine Altars is in the Gothic style. The western towers date from the twelth and thirteenth centuries whilst the great central tower dates from the fifteenth century and displays perpendicular Gothic detailing.
The Cloister, on the south side of the Cathedral, was begun at the same time as the Cathedral but contains much work from the fifteenth century or later. Together, the Claustral buildings form the most intact surviving set of medieval monastic buildings in the UK.
Many of the Claustral buildings are open to the public as part of Open Treasure, a world-class visitor experience. Visitors to Open Treasure can marvel at the late fourteenth-century Monk’s Dormitory with its magnificent rough-hewn timber roof and the stunning monastic Great Kitchen. The medieval vaulted Undercroft is also open to the public, and is now home to the Cathedral Shop and Undercroft Restaurant. Full details can be found here.
The College, the name given in Durham to the Cathedral Close, is a quiet area on the south side of the Cathedral. It is home to the Cathedral clergy and others associated with its life and of the Chorister School, a co-educational school where the Cathedral choir boys are educated. Many of the buildings surrounding the Green originated in the Middle Ages, and entry is gained via the medieval gate house which is still locked every night. Visitors are welcome to wander through The College and enjoy the quiet space.