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The bright minds of Harvard Yard

This is perhaps the most scholarly corner of America: the 9-hectare area that connects various parts of Harvard University in Boston. Harvard Yard encompasses university libraries, student dorms and lecture halls. A walk through the park is a refreshing introduction to the grandeur of one of the most prestigious universities of the United States.

Harvard Yard dates back to the early 19th century. The large enclosed grassy area is the historic centre and the oldest part of the campus. Part of Harvard Yard is now called the Old Yard. This is where many of the freshman dormitories are located, as well as Massachusetts Hall, which dates from 1720 and is the second oldest university building in the United States. This elegant building houses the office of the President of Harvard University.

Entrance gates with a story

Harvard Yard features 25 stone and wrought-iron entrance gates, each paying tribute to a class of students from the late 19th century. The tradition to give each class its own entrance gate was formed in 1889. Businessman Samuel Johnston, who graduated from Harvard in 1855, raised money for a gate that exuded grandeur and status. Converted to today’s currency, the 'Johnston Gate' cost a quarter of a million dollars. The design was made by Harvard dropout, architect Charles McKim. His 'neo-Georgian' style became enormously popular; other gates and university buildings on campus were later also built in this style.

The lawn: an oasis for students and visitors

Created for all seasons

The park with its distinguished university buildings can be visited year-round. In spring and summer, the green of the grass and trees contrasts beautifully with the red-brick buildings on the campus. Seated on colourful patio chairs scattered throughout the park, students discuss their courses and life in general. In autumn, the park becomes a sea of brilliant red-brown tones. And in winter the snow creates a romantic setting that seems straight out of a Charles Dickens novel.

A winter fairy tale
The statue of John Harvard

“Traditionally students touch John Harvard's shoe for good luck during the exam period”

The statue of the 3 lies

The statue of John Harvard is one of the most popular spots on campus. Huge numbers of tourists and students on their way to an important exam will all rub the top of his left shoe for good luck. However the sculpture is not what it seems and is also referred to as the statue of the 3 lies.


The first of these lies is that the man is not John Harvard. Nobody knows what he actually looked like; someone else posed for the statue which was created in 1884. And although the pedestal is engraved with the words 'Founder of Harvard', John Harvard was not the founder of this famous university. He was one of the first benefactors of the university and donated half of his estate as well as his library, which consisted of more than 400 books. The third lie is hidden in the year that is written on the pedestal: 1638. Harvard was not founded in 1638 but in 1636 – making this the oldest university in the United States.

John Harvard’s worn down left shoe

Photo credits

  • The lawn: an oasis for students and visitors: Jannis Tobias Werner, Shutterstock