One of its finest jewels must be Salisbury Cathedral, the great landmark of the city f Salisbury in Wiltshire.
It was built in 1258 during the reign of King Henry III. It has an incredibly tall spire - a whopping 403 feet (123 metres) tall. This makes it the tallest medieval building in the world.
For the first 72 years of its existence, Salisbury Cathedral didn't have this tall spire
What makes this building even more incredible is that it has reach such an age when its foundations are just 4 feet deep!
Salisbury Cathedral also contains the world's oldest working clock (from 1386) and has one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta (all four original copies are in Britain).
In 1655, a cathedral employee called "Old Hayley the Plumber" shinned up to the top of the spire and there, on the ledge, he 'roasted a shoulder of mutton and a couple of fowles'. History does not relate how he got down after eating that lot.
ROBERT HARDMAN: Happy 750th birthday to Salisbury Cathedral - but why hasn't it fallen down years ago?
By Robert Hardman
23rd September 2008
To many, this is the most glorious building in Britain. But as Salisbury Cathedral reaches its 750th birthday, the real wonder is that it didn't fall down years ago...
Some would say Venice. Some might plump for the Taj Mahal. But there are many who have travelled the world, seen the sights and still believe the prettiest building on Earth is Salisbury Cathedral.
It is a sight which has lured some of the greatest artists, including Turner, Constable and Whistler, down to Wiltshire. It mellowed that giant among curmudgeons, the late Sir Edward Heath, so much so that he retired here.
Approach the ancient city from any direction and you will spy the cathedral's spire long before anything else. It is, famously, the tallest in the land. But it is also the tallest medieval structure in the world. Even in this secular age, its majesty can lift the bleakest soul.
Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire, famous for its tall spire, is celebrating its 750th birthday - but it is a miracle it has not fallen down because the foundations are just 4ft deep
Draw closer, and you approach it through Britain's largest and most spectacular Cathedral Close, 84 enchanting riverside acres containing some of England's loveliest homes.
But this place is more than just a thing of exceptional beauty. The more you look around it, the more staggering it is. All the great medieval cathedrals leave you thinking: how on earth did they build that? Salisbury, however, is more baffling than its rivals.
Most took centuries to build and, consequently, are a hotch-potch of styles. Salisbury Cathedral was built in just 38 years - by a mere 300 men led by the brilliant architect, Elias de Derham.
It is, therefore, a thoroughbred of early English Gothic. Equally impressive is the fact that it hasn't fallen down. The foundations go just 4ft deep and sit on a gravel riverbed.
These days, council planning bods would have condemned it before it got off the ground.
Yet it has stood there quite happily, a constant feature in an ever-changing world since before the Black Death.
And this weekend it marks a very important milestone. Salisbury Cathedral is about to celebrate its 750th birthday.
It was in September 1258 that Henry III and anyone else who mattered in medieval England turned up for the consecration of this colossal display of devotion and God-fearing hard graft.
Now, 750 years on, there have been months of anniversary events which will reach their climax on Sunday when the Archbishop of Canterbury turns up to rededicate the cathedral and 'christen' a new font by the water sculptor William Pye.
This being Salisbury, of course, it will be the largest font in Britain. This has to be the spiritual home of the superlative.
King Henry III (1207 -1272) is one of the least-known British monarchs, considering the great length of his reign. He was also the first child monarch in English royal history (after the Conquest in 1066). he reigned between 1216 and 1272
[[Picture copied from I-SEE ALL encyclopedia]]
As the city prepares for the celebrations, I have come to pay homage to one Britain's great beauties. And, like countless visitors before me, I am soon under its spell.
Even in the rain, I feel inspired as I pass through the High Street Gate into the Cathedral Close. Crucially, Salisbury is not a big place. Though a city in name, it's more of a market town.
You turn off its pretty three-storey streets and, suddenly, slap bang in front of you, there is a mountain of carved stone that should be crowning a mighty European capital, not sitting in a Wiltshire meadow. I feel like an ant bumping into an elephant.
The effect is the same on the inside. You enter at the western end of the nave and there is an uninterrupted view the entire 449ft length of the cathedral from one fabulous daze of stained glass to the other.
The new font is being installed near a tick-tocking assembly of cogs and shafts that looks like a Victorian contraption for making something. Not so. It turns out to be the oldest medieval clock in Europe. There goes another superlative. . .
But it is Salisbury's vertical supremacy for which it is best known. I want to see what keeps that spire in place apart from luck and faith in the Almighty. My tour guide, Caroline Waldman, urges me to press my face next to the central marble pillars and look up.
They are very gently curved, bending under the weight of the mighty spike. 'The medieval master masons very quickly worked out that the weight of the spire was going to be a problem, so they built these buttresses and made it safe,' says Caroline, a volunteer guide here for 11 years.
She does it because she simply loves the place, just like all the other volunteers - 600 of them no less.
We head up a narrow spiral staircase and are soon immersed in a glorious labyrinth of stone passages and wooden walkways. Anyone can book a two-hour 'tower tour' for less than the price of tea and scones in Salisbury.
But it's not for the faint-hearted. Caroline is quick to point out that there are 332 steps up to the top of the tower, where the spire begins.
As we walk along the rafters above the nave, far from public view, she points out a charming little carving of a fox's head left in the stone by a medieval mason. I wonder why he would go to all that trouble when no one would see it. 'Ah, but the thinking was that God would see it,' says Caroline.
More stairwells, more narrow steps and we surface in the Bell Chamber. For the first 72 years of the cathedral's life, this was its highest point until the clergy added their whopping great spire in to get even nearer to God.
The largest bell is a 3,000lb medieval monster which was melted down and recast in honour of the restoration of Charles II. The King came up to see it in person, causing such a scrum that two people were pushed to their deaths. We keep climbing until we pass beneath a low arch and creep onto a wooden platform. There, above us, is the spire. We are 223ft above the ground and yet this thing stretches up another 181ft up.
It is a mysterious dark void until Caroline flicks a switch and lights up an enormous framework of medieval timber stretching up to the top. I had imagined that the ancient exterior would be propped up by the latest in titanium girders and reinforced cables.
In fact, it is simply the same old beams, hacked down by ancient foresters using primitive tools.
Awe-inspiring: Salisbury Cathedral sits in picturesque grounds and, below, a look inside shows how magnificent the structure is
There is a wonderful smell of history - dust, wood, creosote, rope. Pinned to the wall, rather incongruously, is the Guinness Book Of Records certificate, signed by the McWhirter twins, declaring that this is Britain's tallest spire.
Small doors on all four sides lead out on to small balconies offering magnificent views as far afield as Dorset. I see the River Avon meandering along the back of Sir Edward Heath's old home, Arundells.
Far away, in the hills beyond the city, is what remains of Old Sarum, the Iron Age fort where an earlier cathedral once stood. Turning skywards, I see that the spire is actually off-centre. We are not talking Tower of Pisa, but it is definitely leaning.
Back in 1668, the wily old Sir Christopher Wren calculated that it was leaning 27-and-a-half inches to the South and 17-and-a-half to the West. Modern laser techniques have shown that he was pretty much spot on.
I cannot go any higher. The only people allowed up the spire are professional climbers.
Back in 1655, a cathedral employee called Old Hayley the Plumber shinned up to the top of the spire and there, on the ledge, he 'roasted a shoulder of mutton and a couple of fowles'. History does not relate how he got down after eating that lot.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams will rededicate Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday
These days, steeplejacks with ropes and harnesses climb up ladders inside the spire and then crawl out through a small window on to the roof 40ft from the top, where they pull themselves up the roof on a series of metal rungs.
But who built the rungs? Like so much else around here, that remains a mystery.
Back on the ground, I meet the modern incarnations of those intrepid medieval craftsmen.
Behind the cathedral cloisters, foreman Ted Hillier, 62, runs the maintenance team.
'When I was in the building trade, some buildings were designed to last 25 years, and this one's still going after 750,' he says. 'It's a funny feeling.'
In the workshop, a team of masons are carefully hacking away at pieces of newly quarried local stone, and I am amazed to find that little has changed in more than seven centuries.
'They didn't have tungsten-tipped tools, of course, but we do things the same,' says Gerald Wilson, 60.
Nearby, John Parsons, 38, is turning another block of stone into an ornate piece of replacement archway for the cloister. John has been here since he left school at 16 and even makes his own tools in a local forge. It will take him a fortnight to shape a single length of stone no longer than his arm.
So what do these men think of their 13th-century predecessors?
'Some of their stuff is a bit dubious. The line doesn't always run properly,' says John. 'But when you think of the conditions they were working in, it's amazing.'
Like most ancient buildings, Salisbury Cathedral has the mandatory curtain of scaffolding on one side. There was even scaffolding up when Turner painted the place.
'We've had scaffolding moving round the outside since 1985 and our plan is to get rid of it all by 2015 - just in time for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta,' says the Dean, the Very Reverend June Osborne. 'Then we hope to keep the cathedral uncluttered for 100 years until we have to start again.'
Her responsibilities include overseeing 80 full-time staff, a choir school of 200 and a budget of £5 million. It's unusual to find a Madam Dean in an ancient cathedral but, as I am now well aware, Salisbury likes to stand apart from the herd.
In 1991, it became the first cathedral to recruit a girls' choir, overturning more than a thousand years of received wisdom to the effect that only boys can sing like angels. Now the boys and girls sing alternate services - although they will join forces for the big 750th service with the Archbishop.
'When we started, everyone said there would be huge rivalry and that the girls would deter the boys,' says David Halls, director of music. 'But it simply hasn't been the case. It works extremely well.'
As the school day finishes, it's the turn of the girls to walk across the Close to sing Evensong. The sound of them practising brings the tourists to a standstill. Once again, Elias de Derham's masterpiece has cast its spell.
Happy 750th, Salisbury. The rest of us will always be looking up to you.