SALISBURY, England — To many, this delightful cathedral city in Wiltshire, England, is a jumping off point for a visit to the famous and mysterious Stonehenge.
But, this city of 40,000 residents is steeped in history. As such, travelers who see it as little more than a glorified bus stop are missing out on seeing a pair of historic sites.
From London, Salisbury is an easy two-hour train ride from London Paddington. For day-trippers, Stonehenge is absolutely worth the trip, and the best bet may be a Stonehenge tour bus that includes a pair of historic sites in addition to the famous rock circle.
One truly remarkable site is Old Sarum, an abandoned hill fort dating to the Iron Age. This is the original site of the town that was largely abandoned in the 13th century in the wake of deteriorating relationship between the church and the military and in favor of the modern city, originally known as New Sarum.
The hilltop site was likely established in 400 BC, and the Romans later used the site and established the town of Sorviodunum. Three Roman roads (from the east and the north) converged near the site, making it an important strategic location.
The city was expanded after the Norman conquest of England in 1066. A motte was built within the hillfort, and a site was selected for a cathedral.
Osmund de Sees, bishop of Salisbury, completed a small cathedral at the site in 1092. Roger of Salisbury oversaw the the rebuilding and overhauling of the cathedral after it was damaged by a storm, which may have happened just five days after it was consecrated.
Peter of Blois (or Petrus Blesensi), a French cleric, theologian, diplomat and poet, described Old Sarum as “barren, dry, and solitary, exposed to the rage of the wind; and the church (stands) as a captive on the hill where it was built, like the ark of God shut up in the profane house of Baal.”
Today, Old Sarum is little more than stone foundations. Much of the original construction in Old Sarum was demolished and re-purposed after Henry VIII sold the rights to the castle’s remains to Thomas Compton in 1514.
Down the hill and in town is Salisbury Cathedral, the cathedral consecrated in 1220 to replace the cathedral in Old Sarum.
Today, the centerpiece of the city is Salisbury Cathedral, a remarkable building that remains a leading example of Early English architecture. The main portion of the cathedral took 38 years to complete, from 1220 until 1258.
While the building itself is marvelous, the cathedral is home to one of four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta. Elias of Dereham, a master stonemason who was present at Runnymede and tasked with distributing copies of the document, brought Salisbury’s copy to the cathedral.
Certainly, no trip to Salisbury would be complete without seeing Stonehenge. Nearly a million people visit the Neolithic monument every year.
The mysterious and alluring Stonehenge, located eight miles north of the city, is one of the country’s most recognizable symbols. Despite centuries of study and exploration, no one can give with 100 percent certainty the history of Stonehenge