The old town of Strasbourg is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful ensembles of medieval half-timbered buildings. It is dominated by the cathedral, the symbol of the Alsatian city. Other highlights are the central Münsterplatz with the “Zum Hirsch” pharmacy, the Kammerzell house and the picturesque “La Petite France” district with the tanner’s house.
Strasbourg old town: facts
|Official title:||Strasbourg, Grand Ile (historic center)|
|Cultural monument:||Old town, i.a. with the red sandstone cathedral, the choir and crypt are Romanesque, but otherwise Gothic, with the pharmacy “Zum Hirsch” and the Kammerzell house (1589) and the “Petite France” district with the tanners’ house (1572)|
|Meaning:||Grande Île and the cathedral typical of a medieval townscape and evidence of the architectural development from the 11th to the 19th century.|
Old town of Strasbourg: history
|12 BC Chr.||Foundation of the Roman military camp Argentoratum, from which the later settlement Strateburgum emerges|
|1015||Construction of a Romanesque basilica|
|1176||Start of construction on the cathedral|
|1202-20||City complex around the two churches of Sankt Peter d. J. and Sankt Peter d. Ä.|
|1275-1439||Design of the exterior facade of the cathedral with the 142 m high spire|
|1358||Construction of the old customs house|
|1518||Notice of Luther’s theses at the gates of the cathedral|
|1547||Installation of the astronomical clock in the cathedral|
|1681||Invasion of the troops of Louis XIV.|
|1870||Connection to the German Reich|
|1903||Appearance of cracks in the north wall of the minster|
|1918||Transfer to France|
|1940||German occupation in the course of the French campaign|
|1944||Liberation by a French armored division|
|1949||Seat of the Council of Europe|
|1979||Seat of the European Parliament|
|1998||Seat of the European Court of Human Rights|
Gothic summit above cozy wine bars
The cathedral was created in centuries of construction and is the city’s landmark and fixed point. This unique Gothic work could be described as a joint production of German architects and French stonemasons. But Erwin von Steinbach, who designed the mighty tower facade at the end of the 13th century, would certainly have agreed if someone praised his achievement as the Alsatian summit of European Gothic.
“All these masses were necessary,” is what Master Erwin is supposed to have said – as the German poet prince Johann Wolfgang von Goethe interpreted him – “I only raised their arbitrary sizes to the right proportion. As above the main entrance, which dominates two smaller ones to the side, the wide circle of the window (the rose window) opens, which answers the nave of the church and was otherwise only a day hole, how high above the bell square demanded the smaller windows – that was all necessary, and I made it beautiful. «Can one express it even more simply and with more refined restraint, what constitutes the concern of great art?
The reddish sandstone building was built on the foundation walls of an early Romanesque church; but the work continued well into the 15th century until it was completed. The view of the west facade from Rue Mercière, the old Krämergasse, is particularly impressive. The 142 meter high tower was the tallest church tower in Europe until the 19th century. The double portal on the south side with its beautiful arched reliefs is flanked by the famous statues of the allegorical female figures “Ecclesia” and “Synagogue”.
The old town, which is surrounded by two arms of the Ill, is traditionally referred to as the “Grande Île”, the “Big Island”. The tradition of Alsatian wine bars with their cozy ambience lives on in the immediate vicinity of the minster, on the picturesque banks of the small river and in many idyllic corners. The Kammerzell House, built entirely from half-timbered houses, is located on Münsterplatz, the most beautiful old town house in the city, and on the south side of the Minster you come across the Rohan Castle, which was the splendid residence of the Strasbourg bishops from the Rohan House until the French Revolution. The neighboring Liebfrauenwerk conceals very special art treasures: This former cathedral building hut, which was converted into a museum, presents the original sculptures that have been replaced by copies in and on the cathedral itself. These are not just recent bailouts; rather, the replacement was made before 1914. It is thanks to this precaution that in the Liebfrauenwerk the group of the »seducer with the clever and the foolish virgins«, which is not harmed by any environmental damage, can be admired at close range, as can the elegant stone figures of the allegories of »Ecclesia« and »Synagogue«. Paul-Adolf Drees wrote about them: “Ancient symmetry, French grace and German internalization are combined here in Gothic sculpture.” and sculptor Hans Arp. He called his sculptural works “foundlings”, but also “landscape or woman”, and moved from Dadaism to Surrealism without caring about the current taste in art. To him “abandoning in the forest” was probably more important to him for works of art than to feed them to the people of the salons or to eager critics.
According to extrareference, the impressive cultural heritage of Strasbourg also includes the tannery district “Petite France” – “Little France”, which is crossed by several arms of the Ill. With its half-timbered houses from the 17th and 18th centuries, it is probably the most picturesque part of the old town in Strasbourg. The Vauban weir, a little downstream – built as part of the defense system planned at the end of the 17th century – is an excellent viewing terrace with a beautiful view of the historic ensemble of the Grande Île.