Salisbury ( or , or locally ) is a cathedral city in Wiltshire, England and the only city in the county. It is the second largest settlement in the county (the largest being Swindon). It has also been called New Sarum to distinguish it from the original site of settlement to the north of the city at Old Sarum, but this alternative name is not in common use.
The city is located in the south-east of Wiltshire, near the edge of Salisbury Plain. It sits at the confluence of five rivers: the Nadder, Ebble, Wylye and Bourne are tributary to the Avon, which flows to the south coast and into the sea at Christchurch, Dorset. Salisbury railway station serves the city, and is the crossing point between the West of England Main Line and the Wessex Main Line, making it a regional interchange.
Although the actual city was not established until 1220, there has been a settlement in the area since prehistory. There is evidence of Neolithic settlement on the hilltop of Old Sarum, which became a hill fort in the Iron Age. The Romans called this fort "Sorviodunum" and may also have occupied the fort. The Saxons established themselves there called it "Searesbyrig" and the Normans built a castle or "Seresberi". By 1086, in the Domesday Book, it was called "Salesberie".
The first Salisbury Cathedral was built on the hill by St Bishop Osmund between 1075 and 1092. A larger building was built on the same site circa 1120. However, deteriorating relations between the clergy and the military at Old Sarum led to the decision to re-site the cathedral elsewhere. Even in the 12th century, Peter of Blois had described the old church as "a captive within the walls of the citadel like the ark of God in the profane house of Baal". He made the appeal —
The cathedral is built on a gravel bed with unusually shallow foundations of upon wooden faggots: the site is supposed to have been selected by shooting an arrow from Old Sarum, although this can only be legend as the distance is over . It is sometimes claimed the arrow hit a white deer, which continued to run and died on the spot where the Cathedral now exists. The cathedral contains the best preserved of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta and a large mechanical clock installed in the cathedral in 1386 — the oldest surviving mechanical clock in Britain.
The origins of the name "Sarum" are obscure. It most likely derives from the fact that Sarum came into use when documents were written in contracted Latin. It was easier to write Sar with a stroke over the "r", than write the complete word "Saresberie". That mark was also the common symbol for the Latin termination "um". Hence "Sar" with a stroke over the r was copied as "SarUM". One of the first known uses of "Sarum" is on the seal of Saint Nicholas Hospital, Salisbury, which was in use in 1239. Bishop Wyville (1330–1375) was the first Bishop to describe himself "episcopus Sarum".
In 1219 Richard Poore, the then Bishop of Sarum, decided to establish a new town and cathedral on an estate in his possession (confusingly known as Veteres Sarisberias — Old Salisburys) in the valley, on the banks of the River Avon.
The town was laid out in a grid pattern, and work started in 1220, with the cathedral commencing the following year. The town developed rapidly, and by the 14th century was the foremost town in Wiltshire. The city wall surrounds the Close and was built in the 14th century.
There are five gates in the wall; four are original, known as the High Street Gate, St Ann's Gate, the Queen's Gate, and St Nicholas's Gate. A fifth was created in the 19th century to allow access to Bishop Wordsworth's School located inside the Cathedral Close. A room located above St Ann's Gate is where the composer Handel stayed, writing several works while there. During the Great Plague of London, Charles II held court in the Close.