Ely has been informally accounted a city by virtue of being the seat of a diocese. Its status was confirmed by Royal Charter in 1974; at that time the parish council of the single civil parish that makes up Ely was formed during a reorganisation of local government. With a population of 15,102 in 2001, Ely is the third smallest city in England (after Wells (Somerset) and the City of London) and the sixth smallest in the United Kingdom (with St David's, Bangor, and Armagh also smaller).
The city retains many historic buildings and winding shopping streets. There is a market on Thursday and Saturday each week. Ely is on the River Great Ouse and was a significant port until the 18th century when the Fens were drained and Ely was not an "island" any more. The river is a popular boating area with a large marina. The University of Cambridge rowing team has a boathouse on the bank of the river and train here for the annual Boat Race against Oxford University. The 1944 Boat Race was raced on the River Great Ouse near Ely, the only time it has not been held on the River Thames. The race was won by Oxford despite Cambridge being ahead early in the contest.
It is said that Ely derives its name from 'eel' and '-y' or '-ey' meaning island, i.e. an island where there were a lot of eels. This may be true, due to the position of Ely, an island in low lying fens, which were historically very marshy and rich in eels. It has even been claimed that, during the 11th century, monks of the town used eels as currency to pay their taxes.
The city's origins lay in the foundation of an abbey in 673AD, a mile (1.6 km) to the north of the village of Cratendune on the Isle of Ely, under the protection of St Ethelreda, daughter of King Anna. The abbey was destroyed in 870 by Danish invaders and not rebuilt for over a hundred years. The site was one of the last holdouts in England to the rule of William I: Hereward the Wake did not surrender until 1071.
See main article: Ely Cathedral.
See also: Diocese of Ely. The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity is known as the "Ship of the Fens" because of the distant views of its towers that dominate the low-lying wetlands called The Fens. The diocese of Ely was created in 1108 out of the see of Lincoln. The cathedral was started by William I in 1083 and completed in 1351, despite the collapse in 1322 of the main tower, which was rebuilt as an octagon. The bishopric of Ely was founded in 1109. The city took part in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.
Oliver Cromwell lived in Ely for several years after inheriting the position of local tax collector in 1636. His former home dates to the 16th century and is now used by the Tourist Information Office as well as being a museum with rooms displayed as they would have been in Cromwell's time. Cromwell was one of the Governors of the Thomas Parson's Charitywhich dates back to the sixteenth century and was granted a Royal Charter by Charles I. The Original Charter and copies of the Minute Book containing Oliver Cromwell's handwriting and signature have recently been loaned to the ely museum and are well worth seeing. The Charity is still very active providing Grants and Housing to deserving local applicants.
Historical documents relating to Ely, including Church of England parish registers, court records, maps and photographs, are held by Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies at the County Record Office Cambridge.
Ely is the nearest cathedral city to Cambridge. Cambridge does not have its own cathedral and is within the Diocese of Ely. The diocese covers 1507 square miles/3900 square kilometres and holds 610,000 people (1995) and 341 churches; it includes the county of Cambridgeshire (except for Peterborough and three parishes in the south which are in the diocese of Chelmsford) the western part of Norfolk, a few parishes in Peterborough and Essex and one in Bedfordshire.
Ely City F.C. is a football club that was established in 1885 and joined the Eastern Counties Football League in 1960. In the 1997-98 season, they reached the 3rd round of the FA Vase. For the 2007-08 season, they are members of the Eastern Counties Football League Division One. They play at the Unwin Sports Ground. 
Sir Clive Woodward, rugby union player and Rugby World Cup 2003 winning manager with England national rugby union team was born in Ely, as was Autogiro world record holder Ken Wallis and actor Simon MacCorkindale. Other notable people from Ely include The Sisters of Mercy singer Andrew Eldritch, and Australian émigrée actor Guy Pearce. Folk singer Boo Hewerdine and crime writer Jim Kelly both currently live in Ely.Former England football player Gary Lineker currently lives in Ely with Model girlfriend Danielle Buxton. Noted press photographer Gareth Iwan Jones, lived in Ely between 1989-1999. The creators of Lethal Cocktail, Alexander and James Andrews and Carl Skipper are also based within Ely.
In the spring of 2008 a competition was held to find an official anthem for the City of Ely. The competition was sponsored by The Ely Standard, ADEC and Star 107 radio. Judges from around the town and local music scene evaluated the entries and after much deliberation chose Ship of the Fens as the winner. Written by local song writing duo Graham Brown and Geoff Meads, "Ship of the Fens" (a local nick-name for Ely Cathedral) describes life in Ely from the point of view of an elderly resident returning to the city. Using a modern folk style in a homage to the popular Ely folk festival and recorded using all local musicians and singers, "Ship of the Fens" was first aired on Star 107s Mark Peters breakfast show on 19 June 2008 and performed live at the 2008 Ely Aquafest on 6 July 2008.