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Strasbourg France: Your Guide to Strasbourg, One of the Most Beautiful Little Cities in Europe
Scenes from Strasbourg
Strasbourg France, Vampires, and Ping Pong Balls
Strasbourg, France, the capital of Alsace in Northeastern France, wasn't always Strasbourg, France. Founded in 12 B.C., the city has gone back and forth between France and Germany several times over the years.
Strasbourg became an independent city in 1262 with the fall of the Roman Empire and remained independent until Louis XIV, who liked to take things so that he would have the resources to build things, like Versailles, took Strasbourg by annexing it into France in 1682.
Have you ever played ping pong? Well, if there are any vampires living in Strasbourg who have been around for the past few hundred years, they probably feel like ping pong balls.
A little less than 100 year later, you see, in 1871, Germany -- France's next-door neighbor and the country that borders Strasbourg and the Alsace region of France to the West, across the Rhine River -- invaded France in the Franco-Prussian War and called Strasbourg its own by the time the dust had settled. Spreken zie deutsche?
Au contraire, replied the French a few decades later, in 1918 amidst the battles of WWI, Strasbourg belongs chez nous.
Parlez-vous francais, les allemandes?
Are you dizzy yet? Well hang on a second there, the carousel ride isn't over just yet. You see, soon there was another war, a big one like WWI. They called it WWII. Early on, in June 1940, Germany came down into France through Belgium and once again annexed the Alsace region into Germany.
The area remained under German control for over four years until November 23, 1944, when the city was officially liberated and returned to France.
And you thought vampires had it so easy. You try it.
Mother Should I Build a Wall?
One of the most distinctive architectural features prominent in Strasbourg are the timber-framed, or half-timbered, buildings, many of which were erected as early as the 15th century. These are found mostly in the old section of the city, called "Petite France."
Geographically, Petite France is the center of the city. Most cities in France are laid out in the same way -- the oldest sections in the middle with the newer sections growing outward from the core in concentric circles, much like the rings of a tree trunk.
France's cities grew like this because in the old days, you know, like way old -- pre Internet and American Idol -- people liked to build walls around their cities, to keep the riff-raff out.
As a city needed to grow, the old wall would be knocked down and a new one erected in the same shape, but bigger. The circle shape seemed to catch on pretty much across the board. There are tales of hexagonally walled cities intermittently dotting the French landscape of yore, but the only proof of one is a grainy photo of one far off in the distance, like that famous picture of Big Foot.
The hexagonal city wall: myth or legend? We may never know for sure.
Strasbourg Cathedral Facts
- Today it is the sixth tallest church in the world.
- Built in a series of stages, from 1176 to 1439.
- It is 367 feet long, 169 feet wide at its widest point, and 466 feet tall.
- Most of the stained glass windows date to the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries.
- It features a suspended pipe organ, a 35-foot tall astronomical clock, and life-size sculptures depicting Christ on Mt. Olive
- 300 steps to the observatory platfrom
Strasbourg's Cathedral: The Gem of the City
Over the years, the French have proven that they can do many things well: wine, champagne, bicycle stage races, gastronomical delights, and, perhaps above all, cathedrals.
The cathedral in Strasbourg France, la Cathédrale Notre Dame, not to be confused with Notre Dame de Paris, is a Gothic masterpiece.
Construction began on the cathedral in 1176 and wasn't completed until over 150 years later, in 1439. The interior height of the central nave rises 105 feet, and the cathedral, at the height of the top of its spire, rises 466 feet. The cathedral was the tallest structure in the world for over two hundred years, from 1647 to 1874.
Tall Tales: A Brief History of the Tallest Structures in the World
Well, if it was completed in 1439, how is it that it didn't become the tallest building until 1647?
Good question. The answer: fire. St. Mary's Church in Germany was the tallest structure in the world from 1625 to 1647, until a lightning strike started a fire that burned down its spire.
Interestingly, St. Mary's only took the title after the spire of the taller St. Olaf's church in Estonia, which held the record from 1549 to 1625, suffered damage from, curiously enough, a fire that started from a lightning strike.
And prior to that, Lincoln Cathedral in England, at 525 feet, was taller than any of the three cathedrals that followed it in the record books. Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest structure in the world from 1092 to 1311, until a storm destroyed its central spire.
And who did Lincoln Cathedral take the record from? None other than the most legendary of all man-made structures, the Great Pyramid of Giza, which had held the record since 2570 B.C., over 3,500 years! The crazy thing is that in 1092, when Lincoln Cathedral surpassed the Great Pyramid to take the record, the pyramid was 481 feet tall. In 1647, the 466-foot tall spire of the Strasbourg Cathedral only grabbed the record because the Great Pyramid of Giza had eroded to approximately 450 feet. Had Giza not eroded, she would have reclaimed the record!
How Much Are All of These Records and All This History Going to Run Me?
Without a doubt, the best thing about this Strasbourg, France tourist destination is that it is free. Free to look at, free to enter, free to admire, free to stand next to and take pictures of, etc. The only time you will pay is if you want to climb the 300 steps to the observation deck, which is something I highly recommend if you enjoy sweeping, panoramic views.
This will run you less than five euros, less for kids. The tower is open daily beginning at either 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., depending on the time of year.
Christmas in Strasbourg, France
What Else Should I Do in Strasbourg, France?
In addition to the cathedral, Strasbourg offers a host of sightseeing opportunities. Here are a few:
Palais Rohan (Rohan Palace)
A shining example of baroque architecture with its elaborate facades and Rococo interior, the Palais Rohan is home to the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Museum of Fine Arts.
Église St. Thomas (St. Thomas' Church)
L'Église St. Thomas features a late Gothic fresco of St. Michael, tombs dating to 1130, and historically significant organs. Among the organs is a 1741 Silbermann, played by none other than Mozart in 1778.
Marchés du Noël (Christmas Markets)
The tradition of the Christmas markets in Strasbourg began in 1570, and today Strasbourg is world-renowned for it's 11 Christmas markets which run throughout the month of December. If you are anywhere near Strasbourg during the season, make every effort you can to visit this living Christmas postcard.
Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art)
Strasbourg opened the doors to the new home of its Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in 1998. The museum owns over 18,000 works from the Impressionist period to today, with collections and individual pieces too numerous to even begin to mention here.
Cruises on the Ill River
A terrific way to see the city of Strasbourg is to take a cruise on the Ill. Day or night, it doesn't matter, this will be an experience you will never forget.
The European Parliament
Strasbourg is the seat of the European Parliament, whose buildings include the Louise Weiss, the Winston Churchill, and the Salvador de Madariaga buildings. Tours of this fascinating complex are given daily.
Most of all, don't forget to just take in that Alsacien air and enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this beautiful region of France. Strasbourg is city that, once visited, you will never forget.
While you're in France, why not check out some Paris sightsas well. Heck, you're already there. Bon voyage!
Planning your trip to Strasbourg? Check out these terrific Strasbourg hotels.