Oxford is a lively cultural centre established around a safe crossing of the river Thames ('Oxen-ford') by the 10th century, with its world-renowned university evolving during the 11th century, becoming an increasingly important centre of learning for theology, law, mathematics and philosophy.
Many of the university's colleges have fine gardens and neat quadrangles, while some have quite extensive grounds. Christ Church Meadow has riverside walks, while Port Meadow, an ancient common to the north west of the city, is an extensive open space close to the city. The Botanic Gardens opposite Magdalen College, were founded in 1621 and present an opportunity for quiet enjoyment just off the main thoroughfare.
Oxford straddles two rivers and is served by the Oxford canal. The river Thames (known as the Isis in Oxford) flows along the west side of the city. The river Cherwell flows down the east side through meadows with pleasant footpaths. The Oxford Canal runs north-south providing opportunities for angling, boating and walking along the towpath. Traditionally flat bottomed punts are used on the river, and rowing is a well-known university sport with inter-collegiate events in February and May. Steamers ply for hire between Oxford and Abingdon during the summer and shorter trips are also available.
Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, stands in a romantic park created by the famous landscape gardener 'Capability' Brown. It was presented by the English nation to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, in recognition of his victory in 1704 over French and Bavarian troops. Built between 1705 and 1722 and characterized by an eclectic style and a return to national roots, it is a perfect example of an 18th-century princely dwelling.