The academic study of medicine before 1850
Built in 1575, this unusual gate would have been regarded as state-of-the-art modern architecture, representing the earliest appearance of the Italian Renaissance style in Cambridge. It remains equally striking today.
The gate was designed by Dr John Caius, Master of the College and an eminent physician. Caius had finished his training in Padua, then the leading medical centre in Europe, and returned to Cambridge with an Italianate taste in architecture and a set of humanist ideals, which he then proceeded to apply to the University.
For many centuries, medicine - or Physic as it was known - was by far the smallest faculty in Cambridge. Taught from the 13th century onwards, the subject relied heavily on classical texts and placed little emphasis on observation or practical experiments. This was accompanied by the study of astronomy and astrology.
On his return, Caius introduced some radical new anatomical practices, such as autopsy and dissection, into the medical curriculum. He also designed a new court for his college, which broke with medieval tradition by having only three sides. “Lest”, he said, “the air, being prevented from free movement, should be corrupted and so do harm to us.”
Caius fostered a strong medical tradition at the college which continues today. In the 17th century, another famous alumnus – Royal Physician Dr William Harvey - famously demonstrated the circulation of the blood, an idea which was to become the foundation for all modern research on the heart and cardiovascular system.
Gonville and Caius College
Entrance: Gate of Honour - viewable from Senate House Passage, or within the college (entrance Trinity Street)