These are some of the oldest universities around the world


UST Museum at University Of Santo Tomas has a collection that dates back to the 1800s. — Unsplash

Schools and learning institutions play a key role in shaping their students’ future. After all, education is an indispensable part of life, as it adds to one’s personal growth and helps to overcome many of life’s challenges.

The most revered academic institutions today have been in existence for centuries (even millennia!), with some still headquartered in their original buildings and venues. These amazing structures have stood the test of time, and are worth checking out, if not for their historical value, then definitely for the architecture.

One such structure is the University of Coimbra which was officially recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2013. Originally situated in Portugal’s capital Lisbon in 1290, the university was relocated several times before being placed permanently at its present site, King John III’s palace near the Mondego River in Coimbra, in 1537.

The institution has been around for so long, it’s no surprise that it has a colourful history. You can visit some of the iconic landmarks on its grounds, such as the 18th-century Joanine Library and Saint Michael’s Chapel.

The library, housing more than 300,000 volumes of books, is the highlight of the university. If you’re an architecture fan, you may appreciate its opulent interior with intricate woodwork.

University of Coimbra's Joanine Library has an elaborate interior. — Wikimedia CommonsUniversity of Coimbra's Joanine Library has an elaborate interior. — Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, in Saint Michael’s Chapel you will be treated to beautiful paintings and frescoes, as well as a Baroque organ that still works today. The organ was given to the chapel as a gift in the early 1700s.

You can also take a leisurely stroll at the university’s botanical garden that is surrounded by thriving foliage.

Here’s a list of other long-established institutions of higher learning across the globe you may want to explore.

University Of Santo Tomas

Established in 1611, the University Of Santo Tomas in Manila, the Philippines is the oldest in Asia.

This private Catholic institution was formerly called Colegio de Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario, but was renamed Colegio de Santo Tomas (University Of Santo Thomas) as an homage to the Dominican theologian, St Thomas Aquinas.

Name change aside, the university was also moved from its original spot in the walled city of Intramuros to Manila’s Sampaloc district some seven decades later.

The main building of the university is a marvellous illustration of Renaissance Revival architecture. Visitors are allowed to explore its UST Museum, which has collections or artefacts from the 1800s. Constructed in 1869, it is deemed the oldest museum in the Philippines.

The Al-Azhar Mosque can be found within the amazing Al-Azhar University. — Wikimedia CommonsThe Al-Azhar Mosque can be found within the amazing Al-Azhar University. — Wikimedia Commons

Al-Azhar University

Regarded as one of the world’s earliest learning institutions that still exists today, the Al-Azhar University opened its doors in 970 during the Fatimid Dynasty in Cairo, Egypt.

But even though it has been around for over a millennia, Al-Azhar only received its “university” status in 1961.

The academic institution is also known as Qiblatul ‘ilm, or The Centre Of Knowledge, because of its diverse offerings of Islamic studies. Besides Islamic and Arabic studies, today the university offers various programmes including medicine, business and agriculture.

Back in the 1300s, an earthquake was said to have hit the city, which caused considerable structural damage to the building. It took a few centuries for restoration work to even begin, and centuries more for it to complete.

Within the university complex lies the Al-Azhar Mosque, which was built in 972. Worshippers congregate at the mosque to perform prayers.

The massive courtyard is surrounded by arcades featuring ornamental keel-shaped arches.

University Of Bologna’s Archiginnasio is a library and anatomical theatre today. — Wikimedia CommonsUniversity Of Bologna’s Archiginnasio is a library and anatomical theatre today. — Wikimedia Commons

University Of Bologna

Located in the heart of the city of Bologna is the oldest learning institution in Italy – the University Of Bologna. Also known as Alma Mater Studiorum, the university was founded in 1088.

Teachings were formerly held in private homes, churches and convents before being moved to more prominent locations belonging to the institution. Among them are Archiginnasio Palace, Palazzo Poggi and Palazzo Marescotti Brazzetti.

Today, these buildings are used for different purposes. For example, Archiginnasio – once the main structure of the university – now acts as a library and the Anatomical Theatre. Meanwhile, housed within the institution compound is the Palazzo Poggi, which hosts a vast collection of science exhibits.

Palazzo Marescotti, a baroque palace, is part of the department of music and performing Arts.

Having an enrolment of close to 100,000 students, the university has nurtured some of Italy’s most important academic figures like poet Torquato Tasso and philosopher and mediaeval historian Umberto Eco.

Visitors are allowed to tour and check out the buildings for a fee.

University Of Oxford features various historical buildings. — PixabayUniversity Of Oxford features various historical buildings. — Pixabay

University Of Oxford

England’s famous University Of Oxford is believed to have come into existence in 1096, but the exact date of construction is not known or confirmed. Covering a vast expanse of space, the university is made up of various buildings that are historically and architecturally rich.

The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, for instance, is a beautiful church featuring English Gothic architecture. It has a 14th-century spire towering into the sky with gabled pinnacles, and a baroque-style porch, which was built as an addition in 1637. While it’s free to visit the church, there is a fee of £6 (RM33) if you wish to go up the tower to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

Of the university’s four museums, the Ashmolean Museum stands out as the world’s first university museum.

It was opened in 1683 as a space to store the personal collections of English antiquary Elias Ashmole, which were donated to the university. The museum was relocated to a larger building in the mid-1800s to house the growing collections, while the former structure was turned into the History of Science Museum.

Today, Ashmolean is dedicated to the study of art and archaeology, including the ancient Egyptian and Italian Renaissance art.

To explore other parts of the university, you have to take a guided tour, which covers interesting landmarks like the Divinity School, Radcliffe Camera and Duke Humfrey’s mediaeval library.

Alternatively, you can also catch a hop-on, hop-off bus that stops by the university or ride a bike to tour the place. Of course, you can also just walk around the area.

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