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Visiting Luxembourg City's 'Place de la Constitution': the 'Gelle Fra' and keeping ahead of the deposed Grand Duchess

Updated on March 20, 2014
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
The Gelle Fra war memorial in Luxembourg City
The Gelle Fra war memorial in Luxembourg City | Source
Luxembourg's Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide.
Luxembourg's Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide. | Source
'Place de la Constitution' seen from Luxembourg's Cathedral
'Place de la Constitution' seen from Luxembourg's Cathedral | Source

Claus Cito's War Memorial sculpture & the fallen of World War One and subsequent wars

In 1919 Luxembourg's Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde (1894-1924) abdicated. Subsequently, so did several of her successors as head of state. But Marie-Adélaïde 's departure was different. Hers was not of her own accord. In short, the Grand Duchess was deposed by her people.

Close to Luxembourg City's Cathedral is the Gelle Fra Monument of Remembrance in Place de la Constitution (Constitution Square), with its statue (literally, in Letzebuergesch, Golden Lady) designed by Claus Cito (1), of a gilded bronze lady holding a laurel wreath. This monument was inaugurated in 1923 to honour all those soldiers who, during the German occupation of 1914-1918, preferred to leave the country and fight Germany from the ranks of the French army. Of these volunteers, most — over 2800 — never came back. The foot of the monument contains an inscription by way of a glowing tribute from French Marshall Foch . Clearly, these volunteers' actions in challenging the German invasion was in step with public opinion in the Grand Duchy. The actions of the Grand Duchess during World War One, in contrast, however constrained by circumstances, clearly were not.

Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde's difficulties

Part of the difficulty was that a number of court officials were German, albeit in place before the German invasion of 1914. While the institutions of the country in a measure continued to function throughout World War One and the occupation, the Grand Duchess's inability to distance herself from her German court officials caused unpopular sentiment to arise.

But there is another significant factor which historian Gilbert Trausch points out (2). Even before the German invastion in 1914, while the two previous Grand Dukes had been content to let the government of the day bring legislation through the Chamber of Deputies and to sign bills and appointments without hesitation, Marie-Adélaïde , who began her reign in 1912, had been delaying the signing of bills in order promote her own views and refusing certain appointments which the government of the day had recommended: none of these actions was strictly unconstitutional, but it was a style of reigning which her two predecessors as head of state had not followed.

Then came World War One and many men fought and died opposing the German army, while Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde, surrounded by hugely unpopular German courtiers, generally avoided confrontations with that same army. World War One ended, and the situation was complicated by the fact that prominent politicians in both neighbouring France and Belgium wished for their respective countries to annex Luxembourg. There was even a short-lived attempt at a Communist revolution in Luxembourg, prompting the intervention of foreign troops again — French troops — but this time at the request of the Grand Duchy's government.

In 1919 Marie-Adélaïde abdicated — almost a euphemism for having been deposed — and her younger sister Grand Duchess Charlotte reigned in her place ... until 1964.

Thus there is a sense that the Gelle Fra symbolized an aspiration for freedom and the country's constitution on the part of those who fought with France, with evident public sympathy, in a manner which the head of state during World War One had in some sense not fully been able to symbolize. Thus it is clear that public sentiment had kept ahead of the deposed Grand Duchess.

Later monarchs

Her successor Grand Duchess Charlotte did not allow similar perceptions to materialize when Germany invaded again in 1940. Together with her government, Charlotte went into exile, later visiting President Franklin D. Roosevelt ; her son Prince — later Grand Duke — Jean , served in the British army; and on Grand Duchess Charlotte 's return in 1945 there was no doubt whatsoever of her popular support.

During World War Two, the Nazi German occupiers had taken down the Gelle Fra statue and monument, but it was eventually restored and its frame of reference for public remembrance was widened to include those who fought in World War Two and even the Korean War also, in which Luxembourg participated.

Thus it has been that the remembrance and aspirations symbolized by the Gelle Fra have been in harmony with the subsequent heads of state: Grand Duchess Charlotte , Grand Duke Jean , and Grand Duke Henri , of a dynasty which is beloved of its people.


(1) Claus Cito (1882-1965) was a sculptor, who, together with other artists from Luxembourg such as Nico Klopp , Joseph Kutter , Harry Rabinger and others, were involved with the Salon de la Sécession series of artistic exhibitions which were held in Luxembourg City from 1927 to 1930. Cito's Gelle Fra sculpture inspired a similar work by the Croatian sculptor Sanja Iveković (1949-) in 2001.

(2) Gilbert Trausch, Le Luxembourg à l'époque contemporaine , Editions Bourg-Bourger, 1981, p. 86.

Also worth seeing

Next to the Place de la Constitution is Luxembourg's Cathedral and adjacent National Library , a former Jesuit college which dates from 1603; in the Cathedral's crypt rest the bones of Jean the Blind of Luxembourg, who was killed at the Battle of Crécy in 1346; these remains were removed in 1946 from Saarburg, Germany — where Luxembourg maintained a military occupation after World War 2 — and these were interred again in the crypt.

In Luxembourg City, in sight of the Gelle Fra monument — from where I think the views are splendid — is the Pont Adolphe (Adolf Bridge) across the Pétrusse Valley.

The Grand Ducal Palace , Luxembourg, less than 1 kilometre away, dates from the 16th century, in Flemish Renaissance style, and in 1890 it definitively became the monarch's residence and office.

Clervaux , Luxembourg (distance: 65 kilometres) has a fine castle, distinguished ecclesiastical architecture and memories from the Battle of the Bulge.

Trier , Germany (distance: 49 kilometres) is an ancient city with many architectural treasures including the Porta Nigra , which dated from the Roman era.

Nennig , Germany (distance: 23 kilometres) has a well preserved mosaic in a Roman villa.

Waldhof-Falkenstein , Germany (distance: 55 kilometres) has an ancient castle overlooking the Our Valley, bordering Luxembourg.

Grevenmacher , Luxembourg (distance: 28 kilometres) has a picturesque old chapel situated at the top of a long set of steps.

Audun-le-Tiche , France (distance: 22 kilometres), which is situated adjacent to the border with Luxembourg, has a necropolis museum on a site dating from Merovingian times.

Bastogne , Belgium (distance: 71 km), is visited by many Americans because of its Battle of the Bulge associations.


How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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