Illustration: M. Kornmesser / ESO
The area around Winchester has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but did not develop into a city until the Late Iron Age. Winchester came under Roman control after their conquest of Britain, leading to the building of its stone walls at the beginning of the third century. In 648 AD, King Cenwalh of Wessex erected the Church of St Peter and St Paul, which became a cathedral in the 660s. The present form of the city dates to reconstruction in the late 9th century, when King Alfred the Great ruled Wessex. Winchester is commonly described as the ancient capital of Wessex.
City Cross: Winchester High Street
The City Cross (also known as the Buttercross) has been dated to the 15th century, and features 12 statues of the Virgin Mary, saints and various historical figures. Several statues appear to have been added throughout the structure's history.
Winchester Cathedral was originally built in 1079 and remains the longest cathedral in Europe. It contains much fine architecture spanning the 11th to the 16th century and is the place of interment of numerous Bishops of Winchester (such as William of Wykeham), Anglo-Saxon monarchs (such as Egbert of Wessex) and later monarchs such as King Canute and William Rufus, as well as the novellist Jane Austen. It was once an important pilgrimage centre and housed the shrine of Saint Swithun. The ancient Pilgrims' Way travelling to Canterbury begins at Winchester. The plan of the earlier Old Minster is laid out in the grass adjoining the cathedral. Winchester Cathedral Close contains a number of historic buildings from the time when the cathedral was also a priory. Of particular note is the Deanery, which dates back to the thirteenth century. It was originally the Prior's House, and was the birthplace of Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1486. Not far away is Cheyney Court, a mid fifteenth-century timber-framed house incorporating the Porter's Lodge for the Priory Gate. It was the Bishop's court house. The earliest hammer-beamed building still standing in England is situated in the Cathedral Close, next to the Dean's garden. It is known as the Pilgrims' Hall, as it was part of the hostelry used to accommodate the many pilgrims to Saint Swithun's shrine. Left-overs from the lavish banquets of the Dean would be given to the pilgrims who were welcome to spend the night in the hall. It is thought by Winchester City Council to have been built in 1308.
Winchester is well known for the Great Hall of its castle, which was built in the 12th century. The Great Hall was rebuilt sometime between 1222 and 1235, and still exists in this form. It is famous for King Arthur's Round Table, which has hung in the hall from at least 1463. The table actually dates from the 13th century, and as such is not contemporary to Arthur. Despite this it is still of considerable historical interest and attracts many tourists. The table was originally unpainted, but was painted for King Henry VIII in 1522. The names of the legendary Knights of the Round Table are written around the edge of the table surmounted by King Arthur on his throne. In the grounds of the Great Hall is a recreation of a medieval garden.
The Guildhall Winchester is a magnificent Victorian building, dating from 1871 in the Gothic revival style. The Guildhall was originally part of a larger complex, housing the law courts, police station and fire brigade but the greater part was given over to civic roles. The building is now used as an events venue, and is the location of the TORUS 2015 conference dinner!