Duke University Campus

This was my first look at the Duke University campus. I was not expecting a magnificent cathedral and was eager to thank my Uber driver and head right over there.

Duke University is the biggest thing in Durham, North Carolina these days. In the past, textile and electrical power industries were big, and the tobacco industry was huge here. Black entrepreneurs established corporations in banking and insurance. Today though, Duke University, and the Duke University Health System are far and away the city’s most dominant employers and the center of the Durham economy. Duke University Health System is why we were here in the first place. Pedro is a data scientist in the health industry and the conference topic was AI/machine learning in medicine.

After touring public art and murals in the morning, and Bennet Place in the afternoon, I was running out of daytime. I had my Uber driver drop me off at the University and I had plans to walk through the campus on my way back to the hotel room to meet Pedro as he left the conference.

I was on the West Campus, designed by architect Julian Abele. Gothic architecture rose up around me as I walked the paths to reach the front of the magnificent cathedral, which is humbly called “the Chapel.”

Church doors are some of the best doors
It looked like I could pass beneath the covered archway and get to the rest of the campus.

I made my way toward a covered walkway and was stopped dead in my tracks by bells. Just as I passed beneath the 210-foot bell tower, a waterfall of peals spilled over me. I was in awe. I stood there gaping, and someone who exited the very doors I had just photographed above, smiled at me and said as he walked past, “He works with 50 bells, the largest of which is over 11,000 pounds.” I gaped anew, “There is a person up there right now, making this music?” “Yes, a real person. It’s not a recording.” The music was entrancing, and lasted possibly ten minutes, with a break in there at some point to toll the hour. I took so many photos, but it wasn’t until the final 30 seconds that I thought to make a video to capture the bell sounds. Sadly, what I captured is the sign-off, and not as remarkable as the rest.

Once released from my trance, I walked through the arches and into the courtyard in front of the Chapel.

Gothic architecture on the Duke campus.
A good look at the front of The Chapel. I had to walk backwards for some time in order to get the whole thing within the camera frame.

The magnificent building completed in 1932 was requested by founder James B. Duke and intended to be an anchor for the campus. It is affiliated with the Methodist Church but supports and advocates for all recognized religious groups on campus, including Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, and Protestant organizations and groups.

Closer look at some of the guardians of the front entrance.
Inside the cool and quiet space.
From the inside I could appreciate the many stained-glass windows.
The Duke Chapel has three pipe organs, and when they are playing in here it must sound marvelous.
Inside the Memorial Chapel is the final resting place of Benjamin Duke, Washington Duke, and James Buchanan Duke.

The cool and quiet of the Chapel had refreshed me, and I was ready to forge ahead into the brutal heat and humidity of August in North Carolina. At the entrance of the Chapel were some free maps of the West Campus. I grabbed one and plotted my route, marveling at the architecture around me as I walked.

York Chapel of the Divinity School
West Union Building
The view past the library on the left, the chemistry, sociology, and social sciences buildings to the Duke Hospital South, and medical school at the end.

There was much more to see but time was short and I needed to pick up the pace and get heading toward the hotel once more. It would have been quickest to walk right out on Chapel Drive, but I saw that the road paralleled the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which was one of the main places I wanted to see while here. So I made the detour.

The Memorial Gate entrance to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

The gardens are 55 acres (22 ha) of landscaped beauty, open to all and visited by 300,000 people a year. I hope they got to see more of it than I did, because what I saw was wonderful. I walked through quickly, but of course I was forced to stop for a few photos.

Map of the gardens.
Wide open spaces for visitors on the South Lawn.
The low angle of the sun cast shadows that interfered with my photos on the Terrace Gardens.
Pretty little outbuildings add to the garden’s atmosphere.
Some of the landscaping was extraordinary.
The campus is almost as beautiful when you make your way out of the gardens.

I emerged from the campus on a road that led me directly to the hotel. It was a three-mile walk from the Chapel, through the gardens, and then into downtown. I was so hot and tired when I arrived! Pedro was waiting for me, but took the opportunity to study for his final project while he waited. Then we cooled down, changed into fresh clothes, and went off to eat tapas.

9 thoughts on “Duke University Campus

    1. Thank you for your comment, Derrick. I’m glad you liked that phrase and I hoped it evoked the sensation I had while getting surprised with a dousing of bells. 🙂 It did feel like a waterfall.

    1. I can’t help but think how cool it would be to photograph sections of this architecture. A series of photos would make for a lovely art piece with all the angles.

      1. I think you are so right, Bonnie. These are the kinds of shapes and angles and curves I especially like to paint, so I think for whatever reason the architecture draws us both artistically. The architect, Julian Abele, is a Black American, and I love the idea that a type of design that I associate so much with western Europe has been employed so well by someone from a culture different than that.

        You are welcome for the history. There is more I could tell, of course. One thing I end up doing most times I blog about a new place is looking it up online in order to get details right. And therein lies a bunch of my own education, ha ha!!

  1. That was the most beautiful area to get to walk through. I love gardens in general and that one was just fantastic. Church bells are a calling to home for me. Germany, at one time had church bells ringing everywhere. I was brought up with them and miss them. I loved that you thought to take video with audio of them. I too liked the phrase ‘a waterfall of peals spilled over me.’ That says it all. You sure got your steps in that day. Thanks for letting me tag along. I did miss getting the tapas though. ;( Hugs, m

    1. Oh good heavens yes, I got my steps in. I got a blister too, even in my amazing-to-walk-in sandals. But any shoe can become a problem when you walk so many miles and it’s hot and sticky to boot. The waterfall line just came to me because I was standing beneath the bell tower, and it felt like the sounds were dropping all around me and on top of me. Somehow I had that visual while listening, so I found words for it. 🙂

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