Columbia University

Columbia University (131)

This famous university is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and one of the largest and oldest in the United States. It was founded in 1754 with the name of King's College, under a decree of King George II of England. In fact, at the entrance on Amsterdam Avenue a pair of golden crowns from that time are still shown. In 1784, one year after the end of the War of Independence, it was renamed as Columbia College and, eventually, became Columbia University in the City of New York in 1896, and is now simply known as the Columbia.

Besides having appeared in countless films, this university is known for managing the famous Pulitzer prizes and boast a list of notable alumni which is seemingly endless: Five founding fathers of the United States, several presidents, including Barack Obama himself, more than 90 Nobel laureates, more than 100 Pulitzer Prizes, more than 20 winners of Academy Awards and many other personalities from the arts and sciences.

Originally, the university was located next to Trinity Church within the Financial District, then it moved to Madison Avenue with 49th and, since 1897, it is here in the Morningside Heights district, where you can also find other very important educational institutions. Most of the buildings were designed in a Fine Arts style by the architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White, the same creators of the Villard Houses, the missing Madison Square Garden II and the General Post Office, among other works.

The main campus covers more than 13 hectares with many notable buildings. Among them, you cannot leave without paying special attention to the Low Memorial Library, the first building, which was built in the shape of a Greek cross in the centre of the campus. It is named after Seth Low, who was the dean of the university from 1890 on and, later, become mayor of New York. Its exterior is majestic. Its grand staircase and imposing columns give access to a spectacular interior, which is well worth visiting to admire its large rotunda and dome, although it no longer houses the library.

On the large outdoor staircase to the College Walk, the promenade linking Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, you can find a sculpture called Alma Mater, created by Daniel Chester French in 1904. It is Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, arts and war techniques, among other things. Interestingly enough, you must know that this sculptor was a great lover of taxidermy and used to hide owls in his works. Indeed, Alma Mater has its very own. Look very closely to be able to find out. Nowadays, it is said that the first student from each promotion to be able to find it will become the best student in their class. In the past, however, when Columbia was only meant for men, it was said that the first to find the owl would marry a Barnard girl, another academic institution in the area. Have you already seen it?

If you really want to go to the library, you have to go to Butler Library, to the south, which was built by architect James Gamble Rogers in 1934. At present, it is one of the largest libraries in the United States, as you may find more than 6 million books to consult within its walls. Be that as it may, within the campus there are more than 10 libraries where to find the document you want. The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library is also noteworthy, with the largest collection of books on architecture across the US. 

East of Low Memorial Library you will find another great building: the Saint Paul's Episcopal Chapel, built by the firm Howells & Stokes in 1904. The chapel is made of the same red brick as other campus buildings, but details in white and yellow marble were added that look especially impressive at sunset. Its beautiful 27-metre-high dome is particularly noteworthy, which is surrounded by 16 arched windows and topped by green mosaics. Once inside, its Latin floor is 36 metres long, whereas its austere wall finishing, delicate stained glass windows and great organ, one of the best throughout Manhattan, are striking.

Now look at the orange brick building with mansard roofs located between the Low Memorial Library and the chapel, the little Blue Hall. Did you know that Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was located on this plot of land before the university settled here? It is quite odd, is it not? An asylum was located right where the best minds are now prepared and instructed, as the Blue Hall is the only surviving structure since then.

The truth is that Columbia University is full of interesting details, which you, obviously, only get to know 100% if you study here. For example, it is nice to visit the campus in winter, when its trees are lit with thousands of lights, and, on the other hand, traditions like Orgo Night, the night before the Organic Chemistry test, which is usually the first of the final exams, when the college band parades through the library and other rooms so as to prevent anyone from studying. 

Finally, we can tell you that this university has appeared in countless movies, such as West Side Story, Ghostbusters, Malcolm X and Hannah and Her Sisters. And in television shows like Gossip Girl, The Sopranos, House and Lost. As you can see, this university is highly photogenic.

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