Strasbourg, Alsace long Walking Tour (with Subtitles) Petite France, Cathedral, etc. August 2021
Welcome to our tour of the historic center of Strasbourg. We start our walk in La Petite France, a historic quarter of largely half-timbered buildings. Four channels cascade through an area that was, in the Middle Ages, home to the city's tanners, millers and fishermen, and is now one of Strasbourg's main tourist attractions. The name Petite-France ("Little France") was not given for patriotic or architectural reasons. It comes from the "hospice of the syphilitic", which was built in the late fifteenth century on this island, to cure persons with syphilis, then called Franzosenkrankheit ("French disease") in German.
Petite France forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grande Île, designated in 1988. The Grande Île means "Large Island", and derives from the fact that it is surrounded on one side by the main channel of the Ill River and on the other side by the Canal du Faux-Rempart, a canalised arm of that river. Strasbourg is situated at the eastern border of France with Germany. This border is formed by the Rhine, which also forms the eastern border of the modern city, facing across the river to the German town Kehl. The city has warm, relatively sunny summers and cool, overcast winters. Strasbourg is a city that for centuries has had strong roots in both French and German culture. Strasbourg is today one of the de facto four capitals of the European Union (alongside Brussels, Luxembourg and Frankfurt), as it is the seat of several European institutions, such as the European Parliament, the Eurocorps and the European Ombudsman.
The Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights are also located in the city. The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 in the wake of World War II to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. It has 47 member states. The Pont du Faisan is a hydraulic bridge of steel and wood built in 1888. Strasbourg’s history dates back to the Roman camp of Argentoratum that was first mentioned in 12 BC; the city of Strasbourg which grew from it celebrated its 2,000th anniversary in 1988. Between 362 and 1262, Strasbourg was governed by the bishops of Strasbourg; their rule was reinforced in 873 and then more in 982.
In 1262, the citizens violently rebelled against the bishop's rule (Battle of Hausbergen) and Strasbourg became a free imperial city. Strasbourg became a French city in 1681, after the conquest of Alsace by the armies of Louis XIV. In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, the city became German again, until 1918 (end of World War I), when it reverted to France. After the defeat of France in 1940 (World War II), Strasbourg came under German control again; since the end of 1944, it is again a French city. A particularly dark moment of Strasbourg’s history occurred on February 14, 1349, when several hundred Jews were publicly burnt to death, and the rest of them expelled from the city as part of the Black Death persecutions. Jewish communities were falsely blamed for outbreaks of the Black Death in Europe from 1348 to 1351, resulting in a series of violent attacks, mass persecutions and massacres of Jews.
Starting in the spring of 1348, pogroms against Jews had occurred in European cities, starting in Toulon. By November of that year they spread via Savoy to German-speaking territories. In January 1349, burnings of Jews took place in Basel and Freiburg, and on 14 February the Jewish community in Strasbourg was destroyed. We now enter Gutenberg square that owes its name to Johannes Gutenberg of whom there is a statue of, in the centre of the square. On the right is the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a former city hall built in 1585. The “Neubau”, built in 1585, is the oldest Renaissance building in Strasbourg. Its Classical-style 16th century facade rises up over 3 levels, decorated by Greek-style columns. After the destruction in 1781 of the Pfalz, the former headquarters of the Magistrate and the Councils, the Neubau became the City Hall for a short period. Devastated by the revolutionaries in 1793, it became the Chamber of Commerce in 1808.
During the summer months, an old-style merry-go-round stands in the center of the square, right next to Gutenberg’s statue. Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of modern printing, resided in Strasbourg for a while whilst working as a silversmith. Gutenberg’s work started the Printing Revolution in Europe and is regarded as a milestone of the second millennium, ushering in the modern period of human history. We are now approaching the cathedral, also known as Strasbourg Minster, widely considered to be among the finest examples of Rayonnant Gothic architecture. The approaching armed soldiers are part of Opération Sentinelle, a French military domestic operation with the objective of protecting sensitive areas from terrorism.
The cathedral boasts a unique collection of stained glass windows (more than 4,600 panels), most of which date from the 12th to the 14th Century. In the north collateral, the 13th Century stained glass windows represent Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. The construction of the cathedral, which had started in the year 1015 and had been relaunched in 1190, was finished in 1439. At 142 metres (466 feet), Strasbourg Cathedral was the world's tallest building from 1647 to 1874 (227 years), when it was surpassed by St. Nikolai's Church, Hamburg.
Today it is the sixth-tallest church in the world and the highest extant structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. Described by Victor Hugo as a "gigantic and delicate marvel", and by Goethe as a "sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God", the cathedral is visible far across the plains of Alsace and can be seen from as far off as the Vosges Mountains or the Black Forest on the other side of the Rhine. The astronomical clock, located in the south transept, is one of the most famous features of the cathedral. The first astronomical clock was installed in the cathedral from 1352–54 until 1500, and the present clock was built by Jean-Baptiste Schwilgue between 1837 and 1842. The cathedral’s single bell tower and its spire have been a landmark of Strasbourg for centuries. The spire extends to 142 metres in height (compared to the 69 meters of the the towers of Notre-Dame in Paris).
The cathedral was originally intended to have two towers on the west front, but only the north one was built. The octagon tower was begun in 1399 by Ulrich von Ensingen and crowned with a spire by his successor Johannes Hültz. The work was completed in 1439. As a city at the crossroads between Germanic and French cultures, some great minds spend time here. The young Johann Wolfgang Goethe, at the time only 21 years old, stayed in Strasbourg from April 1770 to August 1771. Goethe’s father wanted him not only to complete his law studies there, but also to learn French and gain knowledge of French culture and lifestyles. It was also an opportunity for the young intellectual to build his character and artistic tastes. Although Strasbourg had been French for almost a century at Goethe’s time, the city was still beset by conflicting cultural identities.
At the same time, the city had maintained its rich Germanic tradition, noticeable in such non-religious establishments as craft guilds. In addition, the city's reputation owed much to its rich arts and crafts tradition, with goldsmith and pottery workshops that were admired throughout Europe. Strasbourg was now in the process of reconciling the two cultures and asserting its fundamentally European character. The Temple Neuf on the right is a Lutheran church (re-)built from 1874 to 1877 in pink sandstone and a Neo-Romanesque style, after Germany took control of the city after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
The origin of the Place du Marché-Neuf (New Market Square) dates back to 1738. Ruelle Sainte-Marguerite must be one of the city’s narrowest streets. Rue des Grandes Arcades leads to Place Kléber, the largest square at the center of the city. A statue of French revolutionary general Jean-Baptiste Kléber, born in Strasbourg in 1753, stands at the center of the square, with underneath a vault containing his remains.
General Kléber accompanied Napoleon in the Egyptian Campaign in 1798–99. When Napoleon left Egypt to return to Paris, he appointed Kléber as commander of the French forces. He was assassinated by a student in Cairo in 1800. The first name of Place Kléber was Barfüsserplatz ('square of the barefoot nuns' in German because a Franciscan monastery was standing along the square). On 24 June 1840 the square was finally renamed for the French general Jean-Baptiste Kléber, also going by 'Kléberplatz' after German annexation. During German occupation in 1940-1944, the place was renamed after Karl Roos, a local ethnically German politician executed by French authorities in 1940 on the charges of espionage for Germany.
The modern tramway became operational in Strasbourg in 1994, and the rue des Francs-Bourgeois was one of the streets where the first line passed. A previous, first tramline, which was originally horse-drawn, opened in 1878. After 1894, when an electric-powered tram system was introduced, a widespread network of tramways was built, including several longer-distance lines on both sides of the Rhine. Use of the system declined from the 1930s onwards, and the service closed in 1960 in parallel with many other tramways at the time. However, a strategic reconsideration of the city's public transport requirements led to the reconstruction of the system, a development whose success led to other large French cities reopening their tramways, such as Montpellier and Nice. Together with the success seen in Nantes since 1985, the Strasbourg experiment resulted in the construction of tramways in multiple other French urban areas as well as in other countries.
The Aubette building was built between 1765 and 1778, housing military and a police post until it became a museum in 1869 and was shortly afterwards ravaged by fire during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Theo Van Doesburg, Hans Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp created here in 1928 an avant-garde leisure complex which included a cinema/dance hall, an events room and a café-bar. The entire complex was designed as a complete work of art, with the intention of “placing people within the painting rather than in front of it”, and which enabled aesthetic theories from the Dutch art movement ‘De Stijl’, in fashion in Europe at the time, to be applied for the first time. Following a restoration campaign organised by the City of Strasbourg, the rooms of the Aubette - classified as a Historic Monument - were reopened to the public in 2006. The Historical Museum, located in the city's former slaughterhouse (1587) since 1920, aims to evoke the city's urban history including its political, economical, social and cultural history. Strasbourg's history is on display at the museum - from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution. Many events are featured in these rooms - from Napoleon's visits to when the Council of Europe was founded.
We end our tour at the Palais Rohan, the former residence of the prince-bishops and cardinals of the House of Rohan. Since the end of the 19th century the palace has been home to three of Strasbourg's most important museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts.