Pretty Houses and a Famous Minster – A Virtual Tour through Strasbourg
Strasbourg is a pretty town and even prettier in sunshine. But since I visited the place on a sunny Sunday in late April, there were more tourists than in Bruges. It was almost impossible to get photos without people standing in front of the vistas.
The Minster in Strasbourg, westwork
Strasbourg is best known for the famous Minster (Cathedral of Our Lady). Its construction began in the 12th century, but it would take until 1439 to finish the building - and only the north tower was erected to its intended hight of 142 metres. At that time, the Minster of Strasbourg was the tallest building in the known world, surpassing the pyramids of Gizeh.
The Minster, interior
You see what I said about people? On Sundays, the times when tourists can visit the interior are limited due to the religious activities going on in the church, and then they stream in all at once. I had planned to arrive at Saturday early afternoon to avoid this problem, but a strike in France obliged me to spend five hours on trains instead of the two hours I had planned, therefore I arrived in the evening.
The Minster, exterior
Although the construction began at a time when the Romanesque style was still prevalent, the Minster today looks like a purely Gothic building, and a splendind one at that. Particulary the westwork of red sandstone (see above) with its statues and ornaments is stunning.
Palais Rohan, the river side
The Palais Rohan directly behind the minster was commissioned by a cardinal, member of the House Rohan . It was finished in 1742, a fine example of Baroque architecture. Today it houses several musuems, among them the Musée Archaéologique.
The Musée de l'Œvre Notre Dame
dates to the 13th century - with 17th century extensions - and hosts the Museum of the History of Arts. The double-gabled building also is the seat of the cathedral workshop since the Middle Ages (from whence the name 'Work of Our Lady').
The Maison Kammerzell
The House Kammerzell at the place in front of the minster is the finest timbered house in Strasbourg. It was built in 1427 and altered in 1589; the most spendid example of late Gothic secular timber architecture in the former Holy Roman Empire. The facade displays carving of mythological and Biblical figures.
The photo shows the timbered upper floors; the basic storey is made of stone, but there were those ugly stalls that sell tourist kitch in front of it.
The Place Gutenberg
The Gutenberg Place is named after the famous printer who lived in Strasbourg 1434 - 1444. It is framed mostly by Renaissance buildings, among them the former town hall. The Gutenberg statue dates to the 19th century.
Strasbourg has more than one church, of course. St.Thomas' Church took several centuries to complete (1196 - 1526). The five-naved hall church shows a mix of Romanesque and Gothic elements. It proved much quieter and a lot less tourist-y than the minster.
Mediterranean flair - houses in the Grand Rue
The Grand Rue is the main street of the old town. It already was the main road of the Roman fort at the site. Most of the houses we can admire today were built by artisans and craftsmen in the 16th to 18th centuries.
Half-timbered houses in Petite France
- Little France - is the name of the quarter which in Mediaeval times housed the workshops and living places of tanners, butchers, fishermen and other smelly and less savoury occupations. Later it became the site of brothels and cheap pubs. The name 'Little France' comes from the French disease (syphilis) which could easily be contacted there.
The Tanners' Street in Petite France
Nowadays the pretty half-timbered houses in the typical style of the Rhineland, dating mostly to the 16th and 17th centuries, have been renovated, and the Petite France has become one of the tourist attractions of Strasbourg. There are a lot of small winstubs
(wine houses) and gift shops.
More pretty houses in Petite France
The old town of Strasbourg is located on a isle between two branches of the river Ill shortly before it confluences into the Rhine. The Roman fort was located on the island, later the Mediaeval town developed at the site which is known as Grande Île. The entire 'Grand Island' was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1988.
Petite France seen from the boat
With so much water about, boat tours around the Grand Island and the river Ill leading to the European Quarter are offered on a regular schedule. In fact, they are so popular that it is best to book a few hours in advance. On a sunny evening, such a tour is a lovely way to explore the town.
The navigation lock
With the construction of the Barrage Vauban
, the Vauban Dam (photos see below) in 1690, the water level changed and made a navigation lock neccesary. Its passage is part of the boat tour.
More pretty houses, this time at the lock
The lock is situated in the French quarter. You can see the boat coming up in the foreground, and some more lovely half-timbered houses in the background.
The Ponts Couverts
Most famous among the many bridges connecting the Grand Island with the rest of the town are the Ponts Couverts
, once bridges covered by roofs as shelter for bowmen. They are part of the 13th century town fortifications. The four towers that protected the bridges are still intact, but the roofs of the bridges have been removed in the 18th century.
Ponts Couverts, seen from the boat
A system of sluices and timber screens under the bridges allowed a controlled flooding of parts of the town in case of defense. Later, the Vauban fortifications would take over the main line of defense.
The Barrage Vauban, seen from the boat
The Vauban Dam worked pretty much the same way as the Ponts Couverts; it could be closed by shutters under the archs to rise the water level, which meant that the Petite France would be partly flooded - one would sacrify a poor quater to defend the more important areas around the minster and the Place Kléber.
The Vauban fortifications
The dam is named after the famous French general and military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633 - 1707). His most importat works - more than 150 in all - were constructed during the reign of King Louis XIV and included town or sea fortifications in Luxembourg, Calais, La Rochelle and Arras. Vauban became Marshal of France in 1703, aged 70.
Pretty houses at the Ponts Couverts
The morning sun, the fresh green of spring, and those nice old houses in half-timbered style or coloured roughcast make for lovely photos. I picked just a few out of some 250 I took in Strasbourg for this post.
Chestnut trees in bloom along the Ill
The boat tour includes a turn to the European Quarter, else I would not have bothered to walk out there and look at lots of glass. The passage on the Ill along the chestnut alley is really lovely in spring.
Strasbourg is one of the official seats of the European Parliament. The building dates to 1999 and includes more than a thousand offices, 18 great halls, restaurants, hairdressers and lots of other amenities. During the session weeks, a whole trek of politicians, bureaucrats and administration members travels from Brussels to Strasbourg, including a score of trucks full of files.
European Court of Human Rights
The aluminium complex (1994) of the European Court of Rights is supposed to look like the scales of justice from above. The angle from the river gives an idea of that though it is not perfect. The main court room covers 860 square metres with 260 seats; there are ten more courts and meeting rooms.
Pretty houses behind the Minster
Those typical Rhineland style half-timbered houses, often with pretty decorations, can be found the in the quarter around the minster as well. My hotel was in that street, but impossible to photograph because the street is so narrow.
What I Visited – Castles in the Eifel and Luxembourg
As promised, here is the introductory post about the castles and fortifications I visited. As usual, longer posts will follow sometime.
I decided for the Manderscheid Castles in the Eifel instead of one of the castles directly at the Moselle, because they offer some spectacular ruins and are less tourist infected than fe. Castle Eltz.
Castle Lower Manderscheid (Niedermanderscheid) seen from the upper castle
The double castle of Manderscheid in the Eifel is an impressive structure, particularly the castle of Lower Manderscheid (Niedermanderscheid). It was the only day of my journey that started with rain, but fortunately, the sun came out later and enabled me to enjoy the hiking tour of both castles. On a wet day, the Eiffel slate is rather slippery. (And after two British castles on dreary days, some ruins in the sunshine make for a nice change.)
Lower Manderscheid – A castle of different layers
The castles got involved in the conflicts between the duchy of Luxembourg and the archbishopric of Trier several times. Both castles are separated by a valley which they control. The lower castle dates to the late 12th century; the upper one to the 14th century, but the site plays a role since Ottonian times.
The Bock Fortifications in Luxembourg City
Luxembourg City started out on the foundations of a Roman castellum
on the rocks above the river Alzette. One Count Siegfried obtained the land in 963 and built the first castle (likely a timber fortification). Mid-12th century, a town had developed which was protected by a wall. More walls were built as the town grew. During the various Hapsburg, French and whatever dominations of Luxembourg, the fortifications were continually enlarged in the 16th – 18th centuries, including some 15 miles of casemattes.
Castle Vianden, Luxembourg
Castle Vianden is one of the largest castles west of the Rhine that remains intact – or, to be honest, has been restored to its former glory. Again, the castle was built on the site of a Roman fort from the 4th century AD. The castle became one of the mightiest in the area when the Lords of Vianden chose it as their main seat in the 12th century. They remained one of the most powerful noble houses until the 15th century.
The open gallery in Castle Vianden
1417, the castle came into possession of the House Orange-Nassau (King Willem Alexander of the Netherlands belongs to that family). They built a Renaissance palace in the castle. The castle was confiscated during the French Revolution but returned to the Grand Duke of Luxembourg (of the House Nassau), but the time of castles was past and it fell into decline. Since 1977, the castle belongs to the state of Luxembourg and has been restored.
Castle Bourscheid, Luxembourg
Castle Bourscheid is situated on a promontory, but the access is today is from the village above; a two kilometres walk. The castle dates to the late 11th century and is the largest in Luxembourg in terms of surface area. The inner bailey with the keep and palas
was built between 1050 -1300, the outer bailey with additional curtain walls, zwinger and towers in the 14th century. Today, only ruins are left.
BTW, don’t miss the post about the Romans at the Moselle below.
What I Visited - Romans at the Moselle
I'm back with another bunch of photos, so here is one of the usual introductory posts. There are a lot or Roman remains, particularly villae, around Trier and along the Moselle. The land is now mostly part of Germany, but in Roman times it belonged to the province of Gallia Belgica and was strongly influenced by Roman civilization.
The Porta Nigra at night
I said in the post below that I wanted to revisit the Porta Nigra because I didn't take enough photos of it during my first visit. Well, there is no shortage of photos now. *grin*
Barbara Baths, detail
The Barbara Baths, named after a Mediaeval village that is now a suburb of Trier, are one of several Roman baths in Trier. They had been closed due to repairs in 2006. The remains are now accessible via a walkway above the ruins. They date to the second half of the 2nd century AD
The Wine Ship sculpture in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier
The Rheinisches Landesmuseum
in Trier has been expanded, so I revisited that one as well. The wine ship sculpture is one of the most famous finds along the Moselle that is exhibited in the museum. But there are plenty of other sculptures and various artifacts.
Musée Archaéologique Strasbourg, Roman militaria
Another musuem with Roman finds is the Musée Archaéologique
in Strasbourg, the ancient Roman Argentoratum. The town goes back to a Roman military camp at the time of Drusus the Elder (12 BC) and developed into one of the centres of the province Germania Superior. Few Roman traces have survived in the town itself, but plenty have been found in the surroundings.
The villa rustica in Mehring
A villa rustica
is basically a farm with a rather fancy main building. The one in Mehring dates to the 2nd century AD, but has been altered a few times during the following centuries. The villa has been partly excavated (the rest is hiding beneath modern houses) and the porticus
(entrance) with the two corner avant-corpses has been reconstructed.
The villa urbana in Longuich
A villa urbana
can be described as a manor. The one in Longuich likely belonged to a retired Roman official. It too, has been partly excavated and some of the main building restored. Remains of the baths can be seen through grilled doors. Its situation in the vineyard terrasses above the Moselle is quite pretty.
The reconstructed villa in Borg
The Roman villa in Borg is one of the largest in the Saar/Moselle district. In this case, it was decided for a complete reconstruction of the main building and the gate house on the old foundations, with murals, furniture and everything. There is even a taberna
offering Roman food. Yes, I tried it - no fishy garum
Villa in Borg, detail shot of the main building
The villa in Nennig (below) is famous for its 3rd century mosaic depicting scenes from the arena that once graced the entrance hall. With about 15 x 10 metres, it is the largest in situ mosaic north of the Alps. The mosaic is protected by a building. Some foundations of the villa have been excavated, but part of it lies beneath a church.
The mosaic of the villa in Nennig
Roman remains were not the only thing I visited, of course. Next will be some more castles for my collection.