Mob Quad, Merton College. Image courtesy of Caro Wallis

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Oxford Quadrangles: What Are They and Why Are So Popular in Colleges?

Mob Quad, Merton College. Image courtesy of Caro Wallis

Most Oxford University Colleges are built around one or more quadrangles. But what are they, exactly? And how did they become so popular?

What's a Quadrangle?

In architecture a quadrangle, also referred to as “quad“, is a rectangular open space that is partially or completely enclosed by buildings. These buildings tend to be of civic or academic character.

The grounds inside a quadrangle are usually landscaped or grassy. This area is intended as a place for study, contemplation, and relaxation. It was originally a feature of monastic establishments, that’s why many Oxford colleges (which evolved from them) use them in a similar manner. 

Oxford's Quadrangles

Oxford’s quadrangles are amongst the most celebrated and visited in the world. 

Oxford colleges are generally enclosed, living and working mechanisms. From the outside, many of them might look similar (not you, Keble!). However, once you go through the entrance lodge you get a real sense of what the place is. 

The quadrangles of Oxford colleges are by no means uniform in style. There is a huge variety of quads and gardens to discover. Most colleges have two, three, or more quadrangles. These are usually organised in a front one – often the oldest and slightly smaller. The buildings then transition from quad to quad. The semidarkened passages always lend an element of surprise. You’re never entirely sure what the next quadrangle will look like. 

Ealy maps of Oxford show that the city was filled with green spaces – many of them productive areas attached to a medieval academic hall. 

Oxford's Prettiest Quadrangles

How to Visit the Quadrangles

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