Because I live in the United States, the history of my country doesn’t really go back beyond 1492, and even then, the buildings, institutions, cities, and such would seem pretty primitive compared to their “Old World” counterparts. As old as some of our buildings are, they are new compared to some of the “Old World” structures. The American education system had primitive beginnings to, and so it’s hard to think of the beginning of universities here, and yet, the oldest university in the continental United States is Harvard, which was established in 1636. That seem very old to me, but when compared to the oldest universities in the world, that is a baby university.

The universities in the United States, were modeled after some of the universities in Europe, like the University of Oxford. The University of Oxford is older than the Aztec Empire, which is said to have originated in 1325. The University of Oxford first opened its doors to students all the way back in 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest university in continuous operation. That seems an impossible date, but while 1096 is a very, very long time ago, the University of Oxford is not even the oldest university in the world. In fact, it is actually the fourth oldest university in the world. Still, it is quite prestigious. “Oxford has educated a wide range of notable alumni, including 30 prime ministers of the United Kingdom and many heads of state and government around the world. As of October 2022, 73 Nobel Prize laureates, 4 Fields Medalists, and 6 Turing Award winners have matriculated, worked, or held visiting fellowships at the University of Oxford, while its alumni have won 160 Olympic medals. Oxford is the home of numerous scholarships, including the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the oldest international graduate scholarship programs.” All that is to be expected for a university with such long standing.

The other three oldest universities are the University of Bologna, a public research university in Bologna, Italy, founded in 1088 at number three; the Al-Azhar University, a public university in Cairo, Egypt, founded in 970 at number two; and the oldest university in the world, the University of al-Qarawiyyin, located in Fes, Morocco, founded in 859. It amazes me that there could be universities that have been around for that many years. I think that mostly, it’s not the institutions of higher learning that amaze me, but more the structures that held them and the institutions of people who ran them. I think that there has always been a desire to learn more, so the universities themselves make perfect sense, but the buildings built so long ago that have somehow managed to remain standing, while so many other structures are in total disrepair, is astounding.

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