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Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, United Kingdom

Several impressive buildings of the University of Oxford are situated on the Radcliffe square, known as the heart of the Oxford. Among these buildings the most impressive one is the Radcliffe Camera with its symmetrical circularity and more Italian than British architectural style. Previously the central building of Radcliffe Science Library, today the Radcliffe camera is the main reading room of the Bodleian library.

The first impression - that the Radcliffe Camera is an ideal place for reading books on medieval philosophy and art history. Every visitor wants to open a book and start reading, which proves the talent of its creators and their ability to create a genuine library-spirit building.

The building was constructed thanks to the donation, made by a famous royal doctor John Radcliffe, who left around 40.000 pounds upon his death for the construction of a building for the new library. The library building and the square, on which it is situated, were renamed in honor of John Radcliffe. The initial name of the building was Radcliffe Science Library, but by time the building was not able to hold the raising volume of the books. In the second half of 19th century the Radcliffe Science Library moved to a new building, and the old one was renamed to Radcliffe Camera (camera means room in Latin) and became the reading room of the Bodleian library, which is one of the most famous libraries in the world.

Built from 1737 to 1749, Radcliffe Camera is the earliest example of a circular library in England. The architect of the building, James Gibbs, studied in Rome, and his creation bears the traces of Italian architecture combined with British elements. From outside the building has 3 stages. The first stage is made from local rustic stone with 16 sequent ledges and niches. On each of the ledges and niches there are arched windows and doors. Numerous arched and rectangular windows are situated also on the second middle stage of the building. Thanks to the large number of the windows the enlightenment of the building’s interior is harmonious. The third and highest stage of the building is a circular dome on a drum. The dome of Radcliffe camera is covered by lead. The interior of the building is divided into two main stages. The upper one serves as a gallery. One of the main impressing elements of the building’s interior is its ceiling, painted in blue and white colors. The shades of the ceiling are reminding blue sky and increasing the illumination.

The symmetrical circularity of the building is a result of Italian Renaissance and Baroque architecture influence on James Gibbs’ style.

Until 1863 Radcliffe Camera was partly open for the visitors, but today, unfortunately, it is generally closed for the public.

By Anna Pambukhchyan,


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