Visit The Ancient Universities That Have Shaped Our World

Visit The Ancient Universities That Have Shaped Our World
The historical Oxford University continues to be a popular location for students, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

From Oxford to Nalanda, take a virtual tour around the globe while visiting some of the world's oldest institutions. Some of these exist simply as ruins, while others have withstood the test of time

Meenketan Jha
06 Min Read

Universities and libraries from around the world have been the foundation of modern education. In India, they've played an essential part in the makeup of the society since the times of the Indus civilisation. The Indian subcontinent houses many such ancient institutions of learning, from North-West Pakistan to East India to even Bangladesh. Interestingly, these centres of education in the area were dedicated to teaching the Buddhist way of thought and life,and with the influence of Buddhism growing, many notable universities such as the ones in Nalanda and Somapura were established to propagate the teachings of Siddharth Gautam. 

The Western world and North Africa is also home to such ancient universities, however, not as old. Unlike the Indian subcontinent, majority of its ancient schools run to this day. Each organisation values its history while displaying it with pride. 
 
Takshashila  
The ruins of the ancient university of Takshashila
Chanakya, the great Indian teacher, brought the legendary leader of the Mauryan dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya, to this remarkable center of education to complete his schooling. Named after the son of Lord Ram's younger brother Bharata, Taksha, the place is considered to be a place of holy sanctity by Hindus. It is also valued highly by Buddhists as this phenomenal institution was where the Mahayana Sect of Buddhism took shape. Located in the Gandhara province of Pakistan, Greek historians described Takshashila as well-governed and wealthy. 
 
Nalanda 
The center of studies for almost eight centuries in India, the ancient university of Nalanda
Sacked by Turkish invader Bakhtiyar Khalji in 1193, the destruction of the university ran parallel to the decline of Buddhism in India. A large attraction for students from all over the world between the 5th and 12th century, Nalanda University is located in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. Established by the Gupta dynasty in the 5th century, the university offered courses in astronomy, astrology, medicine, literature, logic, among many others. Over the past decade, restoration processes to develop the ancient Nalanda University as a modern day institution have begun. Pay a visit to this historic location to learn about Nalanda's unprecedented contribution to the development of Buddhist imagery. In the same state of Bihar, among the Hiranya Parbat is the ancient Odantapuri Mahavir University. Take a trip there and see another prime example of a Buddhist marvel.
 
Somapura
The terracotta statues on the outisde walls of the ancient Somapura University take inspiration from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism
Situated in Bangladesh, Somapura is another must-visit site in your quest to travel across the world through ancient universities. Abandoned by the Muslim rulers in the 12th century, the university was a major center of learning for Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. While on your visit here, observe the slight variations in the ornamental terracotta warriors on the outer walls showcasing the influence of each religion in its foundation. One of the five great monasteries to be established during the Pala dynasty in Bengal, its Buddhist architecture influenced those from as far as Cambodia. 
In addition to the above three, the Indian subcontinent has several more such unique and important institutions spread all across. However, all of its ancient colleges remain as ruins. Although there are ongoing restoration projects on several such universities such as Nalanda, there are too many that remain as fragmented as before and serve a disparate symbolic value. 
 
Al-Karaouine
The entrance to the oldest continually operating university in the world, the University of Al-Karaouine
The oldest existing, continually operating college in the world, Al-Karaouine is located in the North African nation of Morocco. Started with an associated madrasa, the design is a genuine reflection of Islamic culture. A series of arches create a feeling of intimacy and continual majesty. The minarets have been redesigned to match the other North African counterparts. While paintings, woodcarvings, and plasterwork with an added modern twist take you back to the 9th century.
 
The University of Bologna
The elegantly decorated and maintained University of Bologna
Moving further north from Morocco, Italy is home to another of the world's oldest universities. The University of Bologna, started in 1088 AD, is still in operation and is one of the most prestigious schools in the nation. The city of Bologna, a major urban center for centuries, is famous for its churches and towers. As you take stroll along the corridors of the university, look up at the ceiling to observe the intricately drawn paintings of its notable alumni. Also, walk through its Law classrooms which are designed like the ancient Roman courts. 
 
The University of Coimbra
The library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal
Started by King Dinis is the late 13th century, the University of Coimbra went through a number of relocations before settling down in the Portuguese city of Coimbra. Special to  the university is the Praxe, a body of rituals and customs founded upon ancient traditions weaved into the student life in the institution. Go along to see these unique rituals from centuries past to understand the making of this college body. Taking place in October/November is the special parade known as the Latada which you must make time for. The students march through the streets of the city where they are baptised by the Mondego River. 
 
Oxford University
The hub of entertainment at Oxford University, the Sheldonian Theatre
The most well-known college of the modern times, Oxford University is every student's dream. Spread across the city of Oxford, the institution has several parks open to the public. The most elegant of parks is the Botanic Garden on the High Street, which houses over 8,000 species of plants. Another place that makes Oxford University stand out is its hub of entertainment, the Sheldonian Theatre. Breaking away from the Gothic past, the 16th-century architecture takes inspiration from the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome. 

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