Our latest excursion was to visit the city of Strasbourg. Strasbourg is located in the north east part of France. The city sits right on the border with Germany. The city has about 250,000 residents making it the eighth largest area in France. Strasbourg is one of the capitals of the European Union. The city is full of German as well as French culture.
Strasbourg was originally settled by the Celts. (Bonus points for someone that can tell me the country the Celtic tribes originally came from.) The current city was settled permanently about 12 BC. For about 1000 years Strasbourg was ruled by the Catholic Church. Around 1260 the citizens threw out the Bishop and became a free city/state. It remained free until 1681 when Louis XIV took control. Louis only maintained control for about 10 years when the Germans took over 1871. It remained a German city until the end of World War I. The city again changed hands after it was annexed by the German Government before WWII. The French took over again in 1944.
Another quirk that I found interesting, is that Strasbourg has a very good mix of protestant as well as catholic churches. This is fairly uncommon for larger cities. Usually there is a dominance by either catholic or protestant churches. I think part of the reason is that once the city threw out the catholic bishops in order to maintain commerce the city learned to welcome all different religions. One thing that Louis XIV did to try and keep order after his takeover was to build a church that housed both catholic and protestant congregations. The church stayed that way for many years until the congregations grew to large to share the building. However, they did something very interesting. The catholic and protestant groups went in together and built a new wing to the church. Once that was completed there was a protestant wing and a catholic wing. I find that story refreshing because that peace did not exist often.
If you look closely you can see the different building techniques in this picture. The original catholic church is the light brick in the center. The protestant section is the pink on the right. The red sandstone is a different story. During one of the German occupations they wanted to modernize the city; so they tore down the front 1/3 of the church and rebuilt it in the local red sandstone. If you look in the lower left hand corner of the picture, you will see a different style paving stone. When the French took control again, they wanted to give the finger to the Germans (because the modernization did not take place); so they used a different paving stone to commemorate the part of the church the Germans tore down. 🙂 It seems this one church is able to demonstrate centuries of conflict!
The city is also home to a magnificent cathedral. The Cathedral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg was started in 1015. Building stopped sometime around 1100, but began again in 1190. Building was not completed until 1439! Think about that over 400 years to build ONE BUILDING! It is a masterpiece, however. It stands 466 feet tall. It held the record as the Tallest Building in the WORLD for 227 years!!! It is still the 6th tallest church in the world, and is the highest standing structure that was built in the middle ages. Another tidbit I learned is that there are many Notre-Dame Cathedrals in France. Notre Dame translates roughly as “Our Lady.” So the english name of the the cathedral would be The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. Like many structures in France and Germany, the church was severely damaged in WW II and the restoration of the tower was not completed until 2006. The spire on the church is very unique. It is in the shape of an octagon, and it is open so that you can actually see the bells. I think my favorite view of the church is the picture below.
This picture really does a good job of showing how much open space there is in the tower.
I learned one other tidbit about construction that I will share here. The style below is very common in this part of Europe. I learned that this style of home (especially the smaller ones) were actually mobile homes. Each of the wood beams was numbered and they would be transported when the owner moved to a new city. The open parts between the beams would be filled in with whatever was available locally. It might have been stone, grass, dung, clay, or even simply mud.
In the original homes the area underneath the house was left open. It was not until much later that the ground floor actually had walls.
So that was our visit to Strasbourg. We had a wonderful time walking around the city. The only downfall was that Julie wanted to stay until Monday so that she could take advantage of cheaper prices in France and do some shopping. Monday was a holiday in Switzerland so Julie did not have to work. Since almost every store is closed on Sunday it made perfect sense to stay a little longer Monday. Julie’s plans were thwarted however. I estimate that somewhere around 40% of the stores were also closed on Monday. Not so much the chain or big stores, but a lot of the small shops were closed. Unfortunately, these were also the stores we did our window shopping on Sunday. Oh well, I guess that means we have to go back sometime soon. I am fine with that, there is a lot more to discover.
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