NOTHING HIGHER THAN THE CATHEDRAL’S TOWER!
The best way to start a visit to Strasbourg is from its most famous monument, the one that can be seen on every postcard, the famous" Notre Dame de Strasbourg Cathedral", declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The catholic cult, re-established at the end of the 1600s, was consecrated to the Virgin Mary, during the 1500s it had been dedicated to the Lutheran cult. This happened because Strasbourg and the entire Alsace region have changed from German to French a few times in their history.
Strasbourg Cathedral considered an absolute masterpiece of Gothic art, is described by the French writer Victor Hugo as "a prodigy of grandeur and delicacy". All that remains of the original Romanesque building is the crypt and some traces of its former bounda-ries.
Of this original building, we know that it was begun in 1015 and that the Gothic spire, still there was completed in 1439 so that the transformation from the Romanesque to the Gothic style took place in this interval. This cathedral is a real jewel that stands out for many reasons, such as its large rose window of about 15 metres in diameter, its wonderful astronomical clock, its façade with rich sculptural ensembles of the Passion of Christ, and especially for its unique tower known as the “Flèche”, with an imposing spire that is a masterpiece for its finesse and elegance.
It may be striking that the cathedral has only one tower. In fact, between 1490 and 1666, several projects to build a twin tower on the south side were considered but re-jected and this work was never undertaken. Thus the cathedral´s unique bell tower is considered to be one of its most notorious symbols.
With its 142-metre high bell tower, the cathedral was the tallest building in the world from 1647, when the arrow of the Protestant church of St. Mary in Stralsund was de-stroyed, until 1874, when it was surpassed by the church of St. Nicholas in Hamburg.
An experience not to be missed is to climb the platform of the tower, where after as-cending the 332 steps of a spiral staircase, you will have the privilege, if your strength and fitness are with you, of contemplating the city from the top of the cathedral. If the day and the sky are clear, you will be able to see as far as neighbouring Germany, on the other side of the Rhine.
The opening hours vary according to the time of year, being from April to September from 09.00h to 19.00h and the rest of the year from 10.00h to 17.00h. The price you´ll pay at the ticket office to test your calves and glutes by climbing the steps on the har-ness is €5. The reward of the views is worth it!
Address: Place de la Cathédrale, 67000 Strasbourg, France
It is well known that French gastronomy is world -famous. Its cheeses, crêpes, wines, croissants, snails or onion soup are known and appreciated all around the world. How-ever, when one tastes Alsatian gastronomy, one discovers that it has little or nothing to do with what is characteristically French and instead resembles German gastronomy tremendously.
In fact, the popular Alsatian gastronomy incorporates French and Germanic culinary traditions, being a region very close to the German and Swiss borders. This fusion is strongly marked by the use of pork meat cooked in a variety of ways, including dishes such as" baeckeoffe, knak, choucroute, spaetzle and civet". These dishes are served in generous portions, as the Alsatian proverb says, "In Germany, it´s a lot but it´s not good. In France, it is good, but not much. In Alsace, it´s good and it´s a lot".
We recommend a visit to a "winstub", which is the epitome of the typical Alsatian res-taurant with traditional dishes and authentic decor. Here you can enjoy a wide range of these Alsatian specialities with names that are sometimes unpronounceable for English speakers. The dishes are always tasty and accompanied by the wines and beers of the region even better - an experience and a journey back in time to the flavours of yester-year!
Among the rich and varied gastronomy of Strasbourg, there is one dish that will leave no one indifferent and that everyone likes, child or adult: the tarte flambée or" flammek-ueche". It´s a kind of rectangular pizza, usually with a very thin crust, topped with cream, onion, cheese and bacon. It´s delicious and addictive!
According to tradition, the origins of tarte flambée or flammekueche go back to the be-ginning of the 20th century, when Alsatian peasants put a thin dough in the oven to check that it was at the ideal temperature for baking bread. If after one minute the dough came out golden brown and crisp, it meant that the temperature was just right for baking the bread. In order not to waste the golden dough, the peasants added inexpen-sive ingredients that they had on hand, such as cream, onion or bacon.
It was not until the 1960s, with the boom of pizzerias, that the "tarte flambée" was in-troduced in Strasbourg´s urban restaurants and winstubs. Such was its success, it became so popular with locals and tourists that many variations were made, adding new top-pings. You don´t have to be in Italy..... try a delicious and delicate pizza made in Alsace!
THE LOYAL STRASBOURG STORK
As you stroll through the medieval streets of Strasbourg, you´ll come across countless craft and souvenir shops where you´ll be able to see a large number of items in the shape of a stork, or as they say in the local language, "storich". You´ll be curious to know why this elegant bird is present in almost every corner of the city and in so many window shops.
Although some nests can be seen in cities, such as in the Orangerie Park in Strasbourg, they are most commonly found in the Alsatian countryside. This bird builds quite heavy nests, weighing around 500 kilos and up to 1,300 kilos. They usually build their nests in church steeples or on the roofs of old houses, always as high as possible, being a serious problem for the foundations of these historic buildings.
Once the site has been chosen, the storks continue with the same nest and every year, when they return after their stay in the south, they reoccupy it by making some contribu-tions (branches, twigs, earth...). The stork is a migratory bird, which means that it does not stay in Alsace all year round, but uses to fly to Africa in August and return from there in March. However, for some years now it has not been leaving Europe on its sea-sonal journey and stays in Spain during the winter, returning to Alsace earlier than usual, in February.
In Strasbourg, there are many legends about this bird, which is a symbol of peace and fidelity and, according to tradition, one of them brought us into the world. One of the most popular legends says that there was a lake under the beautiful Strasbourg Cathe-dral that housed the souls of babies. In this lake lived a gnome who used to go around the lake in his boat, catching the souls of the babies with a fine golden thread and giving them to the storks so that they could place them in the cradles.
The famous Alsatian cartoonist Hansi liked to depict them as a national symbol. He liked to draw a large stork in its nest, very high, positioned as if dominating the "little humans" below its majestic figure. In times of war, and since we know the political views of the artist, who always defended French Alsace, these drawings have been seen as a message to say that Alsace, represented by the stork, was standing up to the in-vaders.
Although Strasbourg´s affection for storks is not recent, in recent years they have pro-liferated as a representative symbol of the city, becoming the most characteristic souve-nir. You can find them everywhere, in the form of magnets, key rings, stamps, postcards and cuddly toys. Don´t miss the opportunity to take home a real icon of the city. It will bring you luck!
LA PETITE FRANCE
Strasbourg is a tremendously photogenic city. Wherever you look you´ll want to take hundreds of snapshots. But if there´s one place where you´ll capture the essence of the Alsatian capital, it´s none other than the" Petite France" district. It has such an excep-tional charm that it has become a must-see in the city. You won´t even know where to point your camera!
The whole of this district was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and you can reach it in just ten minutes on foot from the Cathedral. And this qualification will come as no surprise when a walk or boat trip along its canals makes you feel as if you have entered another era, a magical time like in a fairy tale. However, few people know that its current appearance and recovery as historical and architectural heritage dates back to the second half of the 20th century, after the Second World War, with the reconstruction of the war disasters. Previously, it had been one of the poorest areas of the city, where only the humble artisans of the guilds who did their business there lived.
Today, La Petite France is one of the most beautiful and charming corners of the city, dotted with romantic half-timbered houses in black and white, built on the banks of the canals, which faithfully preserve the typical Rhenish architecture of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the past, this quarter was home to several guilds, such as fishermen, millers and tanners. Today, most of these houses have been converted into small charming ho-tels and traditional restaurants where you can taste the rich Alsatian gastronomy.
The origin of the name "Petite France" does not come from any patriotic epic. It just refers to the fact that during the 16th century when it was a city of the Holy Roman Empire, cases of syphilis, known as "the French disease", increased in the city. The city of Strasbourg decided to fight the disease by building a hospital called the "Hospice des Vérolés" (the hospice for the infected or syphilis). The quay next to the hospital was named "La Petite France", and over time the name became identified with the whole complex, which is how it has remained to this day.
There are many strategic points to take a perfect photo with stunning views: the Saint Martin Bridge, Rue des Dentelles, le Quai de la Petite France. But the most iconic photo you can´t miss is taken from the neighbourhood´s main square, Place Benjamin Zix, sur-rounded by restaurants with terraces, souvenir shops and the best views of the network of canals where the tributaries of the Rhine flow through the water. From this view-point, there is a beautiful panoramic sight of the medieval half-timbered houses in the Rhenish style and in the foreground, the Maison des Tanneurs, a former tannery dating from 1572, which has now been converted into a restaurant.
Address: Place Benjamin Zix, 67000 Strasbourg, France
IS IT THE MARSELLAISE OR THE CHANT DE GUERRE POUR L’ARMÉE DU RHIN?
Everyone will have heard or hummed what is probably the most famous national anthem of all, La Marseillaise. In France has always been frequently played, for its military tri-umphs in the past or its sporting triumphs today. But what very few people know is the origin or the original name of this intense and warlike military march - in Strasbourg we´ll take you to the place where it was composed!
Every revolution needs an anthem, especially in a country that has a strike, protest or demonstration every day as its favourite sport. So in late 18th century France, the France that ended the absolutist monarchy of the French Bourbons by the guillotine, the anthem that was created was La Marseillaise or as it was known by its original name, the "Chant de guerre pour L´armée du Rhin" (War song for the army of the Rhine).
As the French Revolution progressed, the European monarchies became preoccupied with the possibility of revolutionary fervour spreading in their countries. So, in order to stop the revolution, or at least contain it within their borders, a coalition of countries led by Austria went to war with France. On 25 April 1792, the then mayor of Strasbourg, Baron Philippe-Frédéric de Dietrich, summoned his officers, including Rouget de Lisle, to compose a patriotic anthem for the Rhine army to boost the morale of the troops and encourage them to defend their threatened homeland. Rouget was inspired by some graffiti on a poster he saw in the street reading "Aux armes, citoyens! (Citizens, to arms!), and from it he wrote the music and lyrics of the famous anthem.
The song quickly spread among the soldiers, and in July 1792, the hymn reached Paris from the hands and throats of the Marseillaise volunteers, who sang it in the streets of the capital as they came to its defence. That is why we know the song as La Marseillaise and not as it was originally christened: the Chant de Guerre pour L´armée du Rhin.
There were still times when La Marseillaise was intermittently banned. The Bourbon restoration of the French throne with the fall of Napoleon brought the French the first ban on singing it. However, a little later, with the Revolution of 1830, the famous song resounded again in the streets of France. However, it was not until 1958, after France had suffered in two world wars, that it was recognised as the anthem of the Gallic coun-try!
You can enjoy the plaque that commemorates this event on the current Bank of France building on Place Broglie, where De Dietrich´s house once stood, and you will find it impossible not to hum the Hymn while you visit it!
Address: 3 Place Broglie, 67002 Strasbourg, France.
MAKE LOCALS SMILE WITH YOUR ALSATIAN
Everyone knows a word of French, either because they have read it, heard it in a film or studied it. Let´s not forget that Molière´s language was for centuries the diplomatic lan-guage, used in the main European courts by nobles and aristocrats. But would you dare to speak Alsatian?
Although French is the only official language in France, there are also a large number of regional languages and dialects. Article 2 of the 1958 constitution is very clear on this point, stating that "the official language of the Republic is French". But this does not mean that France rejects local languages since the constitution also states that "regional languages are part of the heritage of France".
That is why up to 400,000 French pupils, every year, have the opportunity to study one of these languages as a second language in public schools. The aim is to prevent the disappearance of this linguistic heritage, which, without public support, is in great danger of becoming extinct.
According to linguists, there are no fewer than 75 regional languages in France, some of which are taught in schools, such as Breton, Corsican, Basque, Occitan, and the lan-guage we are concerned with, Alsatian. Alsatian is spoken by about 900,000 inhabitants in Alsace out of a population of 1.8 million.
Only a few "fine German ears" can understand those who speak Alsatian because this language, which is a kind of Frenchified German, is incomprehensible to most French speakers and many German speakers. At different times in the history of Alsace, each dominant nation, whether France or Germany, banned the language that preceded its arrival. The people suffering these changes quite often found a solution apart from the rulers: a mixed language, influenced by the two original languages, which made it easier for them to understand each other.
We believe that when you visit a country, region or city the best thing you can do is to adapt to its gastronomy, customs or language, EVERYTHING WILL BE MUCH EAS-IER FOR YOU. So we are going to teach you some basic vocabulary in Alsatian. Do you dare to use it? Try, don´t be ashamed!
HELLO - SALÜ
GOODBYE - AUR´VOIR
PLEASE - WENN´S BELIEBT
THANK YOU - MERCI
DAY - DÀÀ
EVENING - NACHT
EAT - ESSA
DRINK – TRINKA
THE BOY WHO FIXED THE CATHEDRAL CLOCK
The cathedral´s most popular attraction is undoubtedly its famous astronomical clock. Every day at 12.30 p.m. it attracts a large number of tourists to enjoy its automata game, which presents the different ages of life, the parade of the apostles before Christ and the cockerel crowing and flapping its wings.
To give you an idea of the technical and artistic marvel that this astronomical clock rep-resents, legend has it that the magistrate of Strasbourg had the clockmaker blinded to prevent him from making a similar work elsewhere.
In European history, the hours of the liturgy marked the rhythm of the days and these were determined by ancestral clocks of the sundial or hourglass type. However, by the end of the 1200s, "new gadgets", mechanical clocks, began to become popular in Euro-pean churches. At the beginning, they were driven by the force of water, but little by little the use of weights to maintain the movement and the precise knowledge of their ideal weight replaced the hydraulic force. These early clocks were naturally a source of great pride for the inhabitants of the cities that owned them, and it became common to see large monumental clocks in large cities.
Strasbourg was one of the first cities to commission a large monumental clock commen-surate with the size of its church. The first of these was built between 1352 and 1354. This original 12-metre measuring instrument, whose author remains anonymous, was originally located on the west wall of the south transept arm. The remains of the anchor-ages that held the device to the wall can still be seen today.
That 16th-century clock also had an automaton in the form of a cockerel that crowed and moved its wings every noon with mechanical precision, but it seems that lightning struck it squarely in 1640 and after the incident, the mechanical cockerel spent many years without functioning in any other way than by hand, and only on special celebra-tions.
It is said that at the end of the 18th-century there were some stewards in charge of showing the cathedral to privileged groups of visitors and that one of them showed the stopped clock to one of these groups one day in the 1800s and while he explained that the mechanism was so complex and sophisticated that nobody could start it up again, a childish but at the same time serene and firm voice raised among the murmur of the group affirming to those present that he would make it work again. The boy was Jean Baptiste Schwilgué (1776-1856), a self-taught engineer who devoted his life to learning the rudiments necessary for the incredible engineering task of restarting the precious astronomical clock. Already considered an efficient mechanical engineer at the age of six, he was commissioned by the city authorities to renovate the mechanism.
The last major repair was carried out between 1838 and 1842 when it was decided to adapt the old Renaissance enclosure with new machinery. The original works by the Renaissance painter Stimmer and part of the 16th-century clock have been preserved. The current clock cabinet consists of several floors and is 18 metres high. This historical marvel is a must-see!
Address: Place de la Cathédrale, 67000 Strasbourg, France
WALKING THROUGH THE CITY SQUARES
The epicentre of a city´s life lies always in its squares, and in this case, we are going to take you on a walk through the history of the city through five of its most beautiful and important historical squares.
This tour will begin at the traditional Place Saint-Étienne which is surrounded by typical Alsatian houses. In them, you can perfectly differentiate between the strata of society. The houses built in stone belonged to the wealthy families, the ornate wooden houses belonged to the wealthy families and the simple wooden houses belonged to the humble families. In the centre of the square, you will find the sculpture of the Meiselocker, which represents the tradition in the city of children using their whistles to catch birds that they would later sell at the market.
You will reach the Place du Marché Gayot via the Rue des Frères, so- called because this is where the chicken and hen trade used to take place. There is an anecdote in this square that tells of a bishop who took in homeless people, among whom were dwarfs, and it is for this reason that we can see houses with low ceilings and small doors adapted to their tenants.
Always following the Rue des Frères, you will reach the square of squares, that of the cathedral, which presides over it with its imposing Gothic façade. The Kammerzell House, with its seventy-five windows and a multitude of meticulous decorations on its façade, has become one of the emblematic houses of Strasbourg.
As a curiosity, I will tell that this square is almost always buffeted by strong wind cur-rents. According to legend, this is because the Devil, who is represented in one of the figures in the Cathedral, wanted to come and see how he had been depicted and on see-ing the cathedral he was trapped inside his own representation and since then his freez-ing winds have remained outside forever, waiting for him outside for the rest of eterni-ty.
Leaving the Cathedral Square, you leave via Rue Mercière which connects directly to another of Strasbourg´s historic squares, Place Guttenberg, named after the famous crea-tor of the printing press who lived in the city for ten years.
The last of the squares on this route, Place Benjamin Zix, is reached via the Grand Rue to the Rue du Fosse des Tanneurs. Once in the picturesque Petite France district, bathed by canals and historic buildings of Rhenish architecture, sit on a terrace, relax and enjoy this place that once sheltered fishermen, millers and tanners.
Strasbourg is a beautiful and monumental city with squares that almost compete with each other for their pleasant atmosphere or beauty. We suggest you take a break and watch life go by in one of the most emblematic places, "La Place Guttenberg" (Gutemberg Square) in the heart of the city. Beloved by locals, it will be difficult not to pass by this square during your stay in Strasbourg, as it is connected by rue Mercière to the city´s main monument, the cathedral.
Built during the Middle Ages, this square was the administrative and political centre of the city until the 18th century. It now houses the Strasbourg Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Known as the Neubau, it is the oldest Renaissance building in the city and it was built in 1585 to house shops and part of the municipal administration. The façade is the only element of the 16th century that has been preserved, in which the classical ar-chitectural orders are superimposed and developed on three levels.
You will quickly recognise it by its beautiful period carousel and the sculpture of the famous creator of the printing press, Guttenberg, who, despite being from the German city of Mainz, lived in this city for 10 years. This is a tribute to the man who studied in Mainz, where, as the story goes, he is said to have been inspired by the wine pressing system for his creation of the movable type printing press, as it follows exactly the same system.
Guttenberg is best known for producing the world´s first typographic book and for his Bible. You will notice in this sculpture that he is depicted opening the page of a book, on which is written" et la lumière fût" or "and there was light", which expresses the ex-pansion of knowledge through the work of printing. The bronze sculpture was erected in 1840 by the sculptor David D´Angers to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the printing press and presides over every scene in the square.
It may not be the most eye-catching of the city´s squares, but you´ll find it almost impos-sible not to want to sit on one of its lively terraces, recharging your batteries with a good coffee or one of the excellent Alsatian wines, while you watch the locals come and go. This square can be considered an important point in the life of the city, due to its shops, cafés and its famous Christmas market. But given its proximity to the cathedral, it is undoubtedly the best place to take a perfect snapshot of the entire façade of the temple, from the other end of rue Mercière, with the beautiful houses of Alsatian architecture at its feet.
Address: Place Gutenberg, 67000 Strasbourg, France.
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