Known affectionately as the Ship of the Fens, Ely Cathedral can be seen for miles, towering above the flat landscape on one of the few ridges in the fens. In 1083 the Normans began work on the cathedral, which stands on the site of a Benedictine monastery founded by the Anglo-Saxon princess Etheldreda in 673. In the center of the cathedral you see a marvel of medieval construction—the unique octagonal Lantern Tower, a sort of stained-glass skylight of colossal proportions, built to replace the central tower that collapsed in 1322. The cathedral's West Tower is even taller; the view from the top (if you can manage the 288 steps) is spectacular. Tours of both towers are run daily. The cathedral is also notable for its 248-foot-long nave, with its simple Norman arches and Victorian painted ceiling. Much of the decorative carving of the 14th-century Lady Chapel was defaced during the Reformation (mostly by knocking off the heads of the statuary), but enough traces remain to show its original
The cathedral houses a superior Stained Glass Museum (www.stainedglassmuseum.com) up a flight of 42 steps. Exhibits trace the history of stained glass from medieval to modern times. Ely Cathedral is a popular location for films; it doubled for Westminster Abbey in The King's Speech (2010).
There are guided tours of the Cathedral from Monday to Saturday (and Sundays in summer); generally they start at 10:45, noon, and 2, with extra tours in the summer, but times vary so it's a good idea to call ahead.