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January 3, 2009 by Rachel Shave

The city of York, in the northeast of England, has existed for nearly two thousand years. It exudes an enormous sense of history, which is what attracts me. The city began life as a fortress named Eboracum, built by the Roman ninth legion in AD71. Plaques around the city mark the garrison pathways. I was lucky enough to gain access to the remains of one of the original Roman roads. As I ran my hands over the cobbled stones, I could almost hear the tramping of soldiers' feet as they followed their gleaming eagle, echoing down the centuries.

The city gained its current name from the Vikings who named it Jorvik when they ruled there from 910-920. Now, the Jorvik centre is not only a tourist stop where you can travel through the recreated Viking village, but is also part of on ongoing excavation that is unearthing the Viking history of York.

The medieval Minster that looms over the city took 250 years to complete. Built in the Decorated Gothic style, it is a site where religion, archaeology and tourism coexist on a daily basis. This cathedral is used for church services and Matins. People are welcome to pray anywhere throughout the building. Meanwhile, in the foundations, archaeologists have excavated the Roman fortress and Norman cathedral that were previously built upon this site. Tourists roam throughout the Minster, with its transepts and chapels, and its foundations. The tourist and the local tend to frequent the Minster and its surrounds at different times of the day, creating their own ebb and flow.

Buildings in the city have survived from medieval through to Georgian times, often side by side, as in Stonegate, which is kept free of traffic so that people may walk through at their leisure. The Shambles, the old butcher's quarter, is likewise free of traffic. At eight am it is free of both the working locals, who do not start until nine, and the myriad tourists who tend to come out later in the day. Having to stoop to pass through the lower doorways into the Tudor buildings creates a physicality and remembrance that life was experienced differently in earlier years.

Walking along the traffic-free streets and the city walls of York and seeing the great variety of its architecture brings to life its long and somewhat violent history; creating a real sense of connection with the past. It is ironic that for my friends who live nearby and commute, York is a city of frustration. The sense of history that enthrals me, and thousands of other visitors, is outweighed by the frustration of traffic snarls that ensure driving to work takes a long time, with little chance of a parking space at the end of it. Although local and tourist can occupy the same city space, it can have very different meanings.

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