Earlier this week, I found myself with a few hours to walk around the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. There was no chance of getting lost; all I had to do to orient myself was look for the centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, the Cathedral of Learning. Towering 535 feet into the air, it can’t be missed. I’ve admired its Gothic Revival facade on several excursions to Pittsburgh, but it was the chance to see the inside that thrilled me on this trip.
I like museums, but the Cathedral of Learning has its own unique appeal. Just a block away are the fantastic Carnegie museums of Art and Natural History. They are gems in their own right and I enjoyed another visit on that day as well, seeing too many things to begin to mention here. I understand the need to keep certain objects out of reach or behind glass in a public museum setting, but the Cathedral of learning is not behind glass; it is used every day.
Pitt students were hurrying into classrooms when I went in, classrooms like no others I’ve ever seen. Surrounding the main hall with its sixty-foot- high vaulted ceilings are the international rooms, a celebration of the city’s rich immigrant heritage. The ethnic communities were invited to have their skilled craftsmen and craftswomen design and outfit rooms dedicated to their respective homelands. For nearly 80 years, these rooms have been living tributes and are still used as everyday classrooms at the University.
As I wandered the hallways past open classroom doors, students were taking notes in carved oak chairs as breezes blew through open leaded glass windows. Dozens of other students were studying or talking quietly in the main hall, surrounded by hand carved oak and stone, a bit of a surreal scene that might have been imagined by J. K. Rowling. Every door hinge and latch was unique and created by the hand of a smith — and you could touch them.
Off of the main hall, stone passageways lead to all sorts of quiet study or reading nooks. The limestone stairs in these passages have been beautifully worn by countless steps. I could have sworn I heard a voice whisper, “Carpe Diem.”
I only had a little point-and-shoot camera with me, but here are a few other assorted photos:
If you’re interested in seeing and hearing more about the Cathedral of Learning and the International Rooms (of which more continue to be added), I’ll include a few good resources below. But don’t let that stop you from showing up in-person; just another great reason to visit Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania.
This page from the University of Pittsburgh provides some general information and links to more about the Cathedral. And here is a page from the same site that features a short narrated video tour of each of the International Rooms.
Here’s a tour and story of the Cathedral of Learning hosted by John Ratzenberger (a.k.a. Cliff Clavin).
*Oh — and finally — if the “yinz” in my title threw you off, this will clear things up. And if you really want to explore Pittsburghese in more depth, check out this article and have some fun on this website n’at.
It is an impressive structure! When I was in high school we went to a debate tournament there once a year. What I remember about the Cathedral was that the elevators didn’t stop on every floor, and I had to drag my luggage of card files and binders up and down the limestone steps you described. I was the only time debate looked like sport that required athletic endurance.
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I can picture that — card files and all! Thanks for sharing a such a cool memory.