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Visiting the Pétrusse Valley, Luxembourg City: a minimal stream in a gigantic gorge, with profuse linguistic variety

Updated on August 28, 2013
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
The canalized Pétrusse under the Passerelle, Luxembourg City
The canalized Pétrusse under the Passerelle, Luxembourg City | Source
Luxembourg City: view over the Pétrusse Valley towards the Viaduct
Luxembourg City: view over the Pétrusse Valley towards the Viaduct | Source
Viaduct Bridge in winter, Luxembourg City
Viaduct Bridge in winter, Luxembourg City | Source
Map of Luxembourg
Map of Luxembourg | Source

A cascading tri-lingualism reaching every toponym

An enormous chasm named for a trickle of water: Luxembourg City is a city of surprises. The Pétrusse is an insignificant-looking stream at the foot of the huge gorge known as the Pétrusse Valley. The stream has a total length of 12.7 kilometres and find its confluence with the Alzette River (1) in Luxembourg City.

For a watercourse of such an understated nature, the visitor may be surprised to learn that it has three, commonly-used spellings to its name. While the French version is Pétrusse , its German name is Petruss (2). Its name in Létzebuergesch is Péitruss .

Near the Downtown area of the City, this valley, believed to have been carved during the Ice Age, is crossed by two bridges, one of which, with a height of 45 metres and a length of 308.4 metres, is depicted (right). In French, the bridge is known as la Passerelle ; this basic form is also used in German and Létzebuergesch, respectively, with merely the article added.

The bridge also has another name by which it is referred: the Viaduct (French: Viaduc ; German; Viadukt ; Létzebuergesch: Viaduc ; — this is not the end of the story, though).

There is yet another name also: the Old Bridge (French: Pont vieux ; German: Alte Bruecke ; Létzebuergesch: Al Bréck )(3).

A bridge with nine names spanning a chasm over a stream with three names...

But before the visitor relapses into bewilderment, remember that many parts of the world have their linguistic complexities and pitfalls. To speakers of English and other Germanic languages, the Latin-based Romance languages appear to have very highly inflected verb forms. To Westerners travelling in Korea, the complex politeness inflections of Korean, which relate to local culture, seem almost impenetrable.

So just think of one of Luxembourg's many contributions to European culture as having contrived a cascading tri-lingualism, reaching down to every toponym and rendering it in triplicate.


(1) The French form of this river is Alzette , also used somewhat in German (although Alzig and Elze also exist; Luxembourg's second city is Esch-sur-Alzette, often written Esch/Alzette, and, while the German form Esch/Alzig does exist, this is deemed to be "too fascist"); the Létzebuergesch form is Uelzecht .

(2) The aspiring etymologist might tentatively deduce: since 'Petrus' is the German form of 'Peter', then maybe the name is derived from some ecclesiastical association with the Apostle Peter? Actually, no: the origin of the name is reckoned to be from the Latin: petresa , meaning 'stoney'. (But the stream is stoney no more, at least in the Valley which bears its name: in 1933, the local authorities put in a concrete bed to the stream, to safeguard the area from flooding.)

(3) Its engineers were Achille Grenier and Auguste Letellier. The Viaduct Bridge was begun in 1859 and completed in 1861, built by the British company, Waring Brothers.

Also worth seeing

In Luxembourg City itself, visitor attractions include: the Pont Adolphe over the Pétrusse Valley; the Grand Ducal Palace; Place Guillaume II , the Gelle Fra monument; the Cathedral, and many others.


How to get there: From Luxembourg Airport (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, car rental is available. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to 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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