The Romans founded the city in AD43 as Eboracum or “place of the yew trees”. During their occupation it became one of the most important towns in Britain and a staging post for the growth and eventual triumph of Christianity.
After the Romans left in the fifth century, the people of Eboracum endured a torrid period as the city suffered numerous barbarian attacks. Eventually the conquest of the region by the Anglian King Edwin heralded a new name for the city – Eorforwic or Evorwic.
The city gradually evolved into an important northern trading post, attracting the attention of Saxons and the feared Vikings. It was the latter who would stamp their authority on the city as the end of the first millennium approached. They too liked the idea of rebranding cities, settling on the name Jorvik.
With the downfall of the Anglo-Saxons and the decline of the Vikings, Jorvik or York became the centre of rebellion against the Normans. It was also during this period that the city’s most distinctive sites, such as Clifford’s Tower and The Minster, were created or redeveloped.
The medieval period saw the city once again establish itself as a major centre for commerce. The Guildhall and the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall are products of this growing confidence. A considerable number of churches were also built in the city during this period.
Having become a pawn in the destructive Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War, conflicts separated by the Gunpowder Plot associated with York’s Guy Fawkes, the city settled down to become an important centre of Georgian culture and legal power in the eighteenth century.
The city’s role as a commercial hub was revived again in the nineteenth century as the railway network developed. Many of the industrial and commercial initiatives with which the city is popularly associated, including carriage building and repairs, residential developments, chocolate and leisure, can be traced to this era.
Now the city is forging a new identity as a base for science and research – but at its heart is a magnificent history full of drama and intrigue.
The countryside north of York boasts two National Parks and numerous heritage sites, including Fountains Abbey, Rievaulx Abbey, Beningbrough Hall and Whitby (home of Captain Cook).
The city itself boasts the magnificent Minster, home of 80% of the stained glass in Britain, the National Railway Museum, Castle Museum and Jorvik Viking Centre amongst its numerous attractions. Evening entertainment is provided by three theatres, ghost walks and cinemas, making York an all-year-round resort.
York Tourist Attractions
The first Minster was erected in the 7th century; the present one is the fourth on the site. The largest medieval structure in the United Kingdom, among its many treasures are 128 stained glass windows dating from the 12th to the present century. Uniquely, the Minster is only one of two cathedrals in the world to have its own police force.
Substantial fragments of the original Roman walls remain, but it is the carefully maintained and restored medieval walls which now encircle the old city for almost three miles. The earth ramparts on which they stand were raised by the Romans and later Anglo-Saxon-Danish rulers of York. The Normans strengthened them. Daffodils now adorn most parts of the walls, adding a dash of colour to the city’s ancient barriers.
Gateways let you in but they can also 'bar' your way. In York's turbulent past, keeping people out was often what mattered most. Bootham Bar (pictured right) is the defensive bastion for the North road. On the road South is Micklegate Bar, traditionally the monarch's entrance, where traitors' heads were displayed. Monk Bar still has a portcullis in working order, while Walmgate Bar is the only town gate in England to have preserved its barbican or defensive tower.
reddevil.jpg (28674 bytes) A number of York's streets have names ending in 'gate', the Viking word for 'street'. But Stonegate existed long before the Vikings came: it was in fact the 'Via Praetoria' to the main gate of the old Roman fortress. Kept free of traffic so that its rich medley of medieval and Georgian architecture may be enjoyed in peace and at leisure, this ancient thoroughfare is the most delightful of shopping streets.
St. William's College
college.jpg (69601 bytes) Built about 1465 for the Minster Chantry priests, the college has also served as a Royal Mint and printing house for Charles I in the Civil War. It is now used for meetings. The upper floor, which has many interesting features, is open to the public.
Guildhall and River
riverouse.jpg (48957 bytes) Two rivers meet at York; the Ouse and the Foss. Tidal at one time, the Ouse enabled the city to become a great port and trading centre. The 15th century Guildhall was virtually destroyed in an air raid in 1942. It has been expertly restored and the interior contains some splendid carving. The adjoining Inner Chamber escaped destruction and may also be viewed.