A May 2011 trip
to Strasbourg by Wildcat Dianne
Quote: This is the penultimate journal of my 2011 European adventure. Enjoy my latest adventures in Colmar and Strasbourg, the heart and soul of Alsace, France.
Attraction | "Back Breakingly Beautiful and Breathtaking."
When I was growing up in Rhode Island, there was a TV special on PBS that ran for a couple of weeks about the history of French cathedrals called "Cathedral!" It involved live action and animation and there were historians talking about the history of the construction of Notre Dame de Paris and other French Cathedrals in between animated segments of the construction of a Gothic cathedral in the fictional French town of Beaulieu. Several famous British actors such as Derek Jacobi and Brian Blessed provided the voices of some of the characters, and I learned a lot about the history of French Gothic cathedrals. Never did I know I would be seeing several of them during six European adventures from 1985 to the present.
Not even PBS documentaries prepared me for my trip to La Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. At 466-feet tall from its highest point, Notre Dame de Strasbourg was from 1647-1874, the tallest church in the world until it was passed by the Nikolaikirche in Hamburg. Today, Notre Dame de Strasbourg is the sixth tallest church in the world.
I arrived in Place de la Cathedrale in Strasbourg in the afternoon. The sheer size of the Cathedral hit me like a line drive. It was back breakingly and breathtakingly beautiful. I don't know if those are actual words, but that was my reaction on first seeing Notre Dame de Strasbourg! I had a dilly of a time trying to get a picture of the whole cathedral with my camera even putting it at the widest angle. I finally resigned myself to taking pictures of the Notre Dame de Strasbourg in piecemeal, but I was happy with the results of my work.
The construction of Notre Dame de Strasbourg was a long one starting in 1015. The original design of the cathedral was in the Romanesque style of architecture and this construction went on from until its completion in the mid-12th Century. In 1176 a fire destroyed Notre Dame de Strasbourg, and construction of a new Romanesque cathedral started soon after the fire. Romanesque construction lasted until 1225 when a new team of architects took over and built the rest of Notre Dame de Strasbourg in the Gothic style of architecture. Lacking electric saws and all of the modern hardware gadgets of today (Home Depot didn't exist and one had to make his own tools), Notre Dame de Strasbourg was not completed until 1439, 424 years after the first foundation was laid.
Notre Dame de Strasbourg saw a period in the 16th century when it was actually a Protestant church after the 1598 Edict of Nantes allowed the Hugenots to practice their religion freely. But after Louis XIV annexed Alsace and Strasbourg to France in 1681, the Edict of Nantes was revoked, and Notre Dame to Strasbourg was once again a Catholic cathedral. During World War II, Notre Dame de Strasbourg was a point of contention between the German occupation forces who had annexed Alsace in 1940 and the French. Hitler wanted Notre Dame de Strasbourg for the German people while the French were willing to fight tooth and nail for their beloved cathedral to remain French and as General LeClerc said he would, "rest the weapons only when our beautiful colors fly again on Strasbourg's cathedral." Inside the cathedral is a plaque honoring the American liberators who helped the French return Notre Dame de Strasbourg and Alsace to French hands.
If Notre Dame de Strasbourg's exterior was mind-blowing to me, the interior was twice as mind-blowing with its gorgeous 13th-15th Century stained glass windows that were kept in Germany during WWII to protect them from Allied bombings. The 1486 red and gold pulpit built by Hans Hammer was gorgeous and a photo I took of it with the stained glass windows in the background is a favorite of mine. The major highlight of mine was seeing the beautiful Astronomical Clock located in the cathedral's South Transept. It reminded me of the Astronomical Clock in Prague that I visited in 2002. The Strasbourg version was built by Christian Herlin starting in 1547 as a Hugenot project. Construction was stopped after the Catholics took over Notre Dame de Strasbourg and did not start again until 1571. This original clock was destroyed in time and the Astronomical Clock that you see today in Notre Dame de Strasbourg was built under the guise of Jean-Baptiste Schwilgue from 1838-1843. Notre Dame de Strasbourg's Astronomical Clock keeps time and dates probably better than my cell phone. HA HA!
I spent over an hour touring Notre Dame de Strasbourg and was lucky not to leave with a stiff neck after all of the neck stretching I had to do to see the beauty of this Gothic masterpiece. It is free to come into Notre Dame de Strasbourg from Monday-Saturday, but sightseeing is not allowed on Sunday when masses are celebrated and on most major holidays. Although I am not devoutly Catholic, seeing La Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg made me feel more spiritual than I have been. See it for yourself and see if it will make you feel spiritual.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 23, 2011
Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg
Strasbourg's history is an ancient one dating from Celtic and Prehistoric times, but the area wasn't successfully settled by the Huns and Franks until the 5th Century as Strazburg. For a long time, Strasbourg and Alsace were an independent province run by a guild of citizens wanting democracy for Alsace. Strasbourg didn't join France as a province until 1681 when it was annexed by Louis XIV. During this time the 1598 Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV via the Edict of Fountainbleu (1685) and French Hugenots were denied their right to practice their religion freely, but Alsace and Strasbourg were not affected by this. Strasbourg was the place where the French National Anthem, Le Marsaillaise was written in 1792 but Strasbourg was not immune to the damage to its churches and other buildings during the French Revolution and lost its status as a free city in 1794.
Strasbourg was siezed by the Prussians in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War and suffered serious damage during the Siege of Strasbourg on August 24, 1870. After the Franco-Prussian War ended, Alsace and Strasbourg were annexed to Germany and remained part of that country until the end of World War I in 1918. Alsace declared independence after WWI, but the 1919 Treaty of Versailles returned the province back to French control. To protect itself from future German invasions, France built the Maginot Line through Alsace and near Strasbourg, but it was no help and France fell to Nazi Germany in June 1940 and Strasbourg along with the rest of Alsace was annexed to Germany and its Jewish residents were expelled and later deported to concentration camps. Strasbourg remained in German hands until the French 2nd Amored Division under General LeClerc liberated Strasbourg on November 23, 1944 after suffering much damage due to Allied bombings beginning in 1943. Today, Strasbourg has been restored to its old glory and is it Grand Ile is a UNESCO World Heritage sight.
After cooling off in the fountain in Place Kleber, I reluctantly put my shoes on and left Place Kleber via a little fair with a beautiful carousel to continue my adventure into Strasbourg. It was great walking around the old squares looking at the many raised timber buildings dating from medieval times including the ones in Place du Marche aux Cochons de Lait (The Pig and Milk Market Square), where those little piggies went to market and farmers could sell their milk to the people of Strasbourg. Old and new mix in Strasbourg and the Ponts Couvert that are part of the Barrage Vauban are good examples.
Attraction | "Marie Antoinette Slept Here!"
Turns out the Palais de Rohan has a short history compared to the other places I had visited that day and it was one of royalty and a who's who of who slept there in its 269-year history. Palais de Rohan was built on a former bishop's 13th century home. Around 1730, Cardinal Armand Gaston Maximillian de Rohan commisssioned some new palatial digs from architect Joseph Massol. Under the guise and plans of Robert de Cotte, Palais de Rohan was built between 1731-1742 and soon started having some very royal guests sleeping there on the way to and from other parts of France or Europe. In 1744, King Louis XV slept here. But one of Palais de Rohan's most famous guest was the infamous Marie Antoinette, who stayed here for a night or two in 1770 on the way to tying the knot with Louis XVI and that unfortunate date with Madamoiselle Guillotine twenty-three years later. On three separate occasions in 1805, 1806, and 1809, Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Josephine stayed at Palais de Rohan, and Napoleon even ordered some of the palace's rooms to be remodeled to accommodate the tastes of his wife. Now when I stay in a hotel, I ask for extra towels or pillows, but not have an entire room remodeled! In 1810, Napoleon's second wife Marie Louise of Parma stayed in Palais Rohan on her first night on French soil.
Palais de Rohan has suffered from fires and war with the worst damage happening after the Prussians bombed the palace on August 24, 1870 destroying most of the art collection that had been housed there. In 1944, the Americans and British air forces bombed Palais de Rohan during the fight with Nazi Germany to liberate Eastern France. After all of the destruction, Palais de Rohan was reconstructed and the reconstruction was finished in the 1990's, and now Palais de Rohan is now a famous art museum and the seat of imperial museums in Strasbourg. It was also declared a Monument Historique (Historical Monument) by the French Ministry of Culture.
After hearing all about the glamorous history of Palais de Rohan, I wish I had visited the museum inside. But I learned a lot about the place and got a feel for it while touring the gorgeous Baroque exteriors. I wanted to name this journal entry Marie Antoinette Slept Here Along With All Other Members of The French Royal Family, but we are only allowed to use ten words in our titles. Oh well! Go and see Palais de Rohan for yourself if you are ever in the Strasbourg, France area and have a cappucino at the little outdoor cafe Terrasse de Rohan in the nearby Place de la Marche des Poissons (Fishmarket Square) to complete your day!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 20, 2011
The Palais Rohan (Rohan Palace)
2 Place Du Chateau
Violent fantasies put aside, I arrived in Colmar, which is part of an area in the world where violence, war and change of rulers was most common up until the mid-20th Century. Colmar is a city of about 67,000 people in the Haut-Rhin department of Alsace 40 miles south of Strasbourg. Colmar is also the capital of the Haut-Rhin department with a long and fascinating history dating from the 9th Century. In 1226, Colmar became part of the Holy Roman Empire as a "Free Imperial City", but in 1575 after Strasbourg, Colmar became part of the Protestant Reformation. Centuries of war and bloodshed soon arrived in Colmar with the Swedish army occupying Colmar during the Thirty Years War in 1632. Then Louis XIV wanted Alsace for himself and took over Colmar and the rest of the province in 1673. Colmar formally became part of France after the Treaties of Nijmegen were signed in 1679.
After Germany unified in 1870, they wanted more land and set their sights on Alsace. The Franco-Prussian War of 1871 saw France defeated and Alsace go into the control of Germany by the German name of Kolmar from 1871-1918 when World War I ended and France once again took Alsace into their control. World War II came along and France was invaded and occupied in May-June 1940 and Hitler took Alsace as part of Germany. Several Alsatian men were conscripted into the Wermacht or Waffen SS and were sent into battle in Russia where thousands of Alsatian men died in battle or were captured by the Red Army and sent to POW camps in Siberia where thousands died. In 1945, the Battle of the Colmar pocket between the Americans, French and Germans saw Alsace liberated and once again and hopefully forever returned to French control after WWII ended.
Since my trip to Colmar was a short one, I made the best of it by walking around the old town center after entering it via the bus station near Rue de la Republique. After visiting the Collegiale du St. Martin, I walked along several of the old town's main streets including the Rue des Clefs, Grand Rue and Rue des Marchands. I also visited Place de la Resistance, a newly named square named in honor of the Marquis or Resistance fighters who fought against the Nazi occupation during WWII. I loved seeing the beautifully restored raised timber buildings along these streets that are painted in several subdued shades of red, orange, green and blue that is common in most Alsatian architecture. Colmar is also the birthplace of the sculptor responsible for bringing the Statue of Liberty to the USA, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, and his birthplace is now a museum (Musee de Bartholdi).
For a taste of Italy, take a walk across the Rue de Turenne Bridge to Colmar's South end along the Lauch River to la Petite Venise (Little Venice). Known in the Alsatian dialect as Quartier de la Krutenau, you can see people riding in the river in gondolas and eating in the restaurants along the Lauch. La Petite Venise was worth a five-minute break for me to catch my breath after lunch at Le Palais des Legendes and watch the gondolas float by.
After a few hours touring Colmar, I was ready for the next leg of my trip to Strasbourg and made my way to the train station in the south end of the city near Rue de la Republic. It is pretty easy to find the train station or get to Colmar from the train or bus stations that are near each other once you get your bearings. I loved Colmar's architecture and food and the architecture of many centuries and styles and hope to return here for a longer trip. It is worth a day trip or as an overnight trip that will have you avoid the congestion of staying in the bigger city of Strasbourg to the north. When you go to Alsace, don't miss this little gem of Eastern France!
Attraction | "Colmar's Main Church: Gothic with a Touch of Renaissance"
Upon entering Le Collegiale St. Martin, I was greeted by the candle stand at the entrance and once again lit a tea candle for a safe journey and other wishes. Above the stand was a plaque in English and French telling me why we should light the candles when we visit a church, and the mystery that had me lighting candles all over Germany, Italy, and France was solved.
As I mentioned before, Le Collegiale St. Martin is Colmar's main church and one of the oldest churches in France. The history of Le Collegiale St. Martin dates from around 1000 when the church was built in the Carolingan style of architecture. Soon this church was torn down and a new church was built on its foundation in the Romanesque style. In 1982, archeologists dug up around the Collegiale St. Martin and discovered remains of the Carolingan and Romanesque churches. From 1234-1365, Collegiale St. Martin was rebuilt in the Gothic style of Architecture with an ambulatory (walking path) that is common in several Alsatian churches. The name Collegiale St. Martin comes from the fact that the church was a collegiate church and was named for St. Martin or Tours. A fire destroyed the bell tower's roof in the 16th century and in 1572 a Renaissance style roof was built in its place giving the Collegiale St. Martin its unique architecture on the outside.
Unfortunately, several of my indoor shots didn't come out due to it being very dark in there and I had difficulties getting a good shot with my camera. Inside Collegiale St. Martin, there is a Baroque organ case dating from 1755along with high stained glass windows inlcuding one of a beardless Christ. Many works of art including The Virgin in a Bed of Roses dating from the 13th to 15th Centuries dominate the interior of the Collegiale de St. Martin. Unfortunately, the French Revolution also hit Colmar and several pieces of furniture and art were destroyed by angry mobs who burned Colmar.
Le Collegiale St. Martin is not as big as the Notre Dame cathedrals in Paris, Chartres, and Strasbourg, but it is just as important historically and a great example of Gothic architecture and history in Colmar that is not to miss when you visit.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 17, 2011
Saint Martin's Collegiate Church
Place de la Cathedrale
Restaurant | "A Great Flammenkoche and No English Spoken Here."
I was greeted by Palais des Legendes' owner and given a seat facing the back of the restaurant. On the wall to my left, there was a cool and colorful mural of Puss and Boots, Cinderella and her pumpkin carriage and other fairy tales of my childhood. The owner came up and asked me if I wanted a drink and I noticed that they served Orangina, my favorite special treat of carbonated orange juice in France and if I can get it at home. So I ordered the Orangina and perused the menu while waiting. There are so many variations on Flammenkoche and the menu also had other Alsatian specialities, but my heart was set on the Flammenkoche whose cheese, ham and carbo loaded crust would keep me full and happy for the rest of my trip into Alsace since I had not yet hit Strasbourg at that time. In my best high-school French (Monsieurs DuLude and Barone would have been so proud of me), I ordered the Flammenkoche and sat back and waited and looked around the restaurant. I loved the tables in this little restaurant (only 20-30 people at a time allowed) with the name of the restaurant above a painting of Puss and Boots on it.
After a few minutes, my Flammenkoche arrived, and it was huge. Taking up the whole plate in front of me, the Alsatian pizza dish was chock full of ham, onions and cheese and it took me a minute to figure out where to start to eat that puppy. Finally I took my fork and knife and started to cut into it like I would with an Italian pizza. It was hot at first so I ate it with my fork and knife and then eventually cast my utensils aside and ate the whole Flammenkoche with my hands. When my classmates went to France two years before I did, they said they got dirty looks in Paris eating their pizza with their hands, but I didn't care what the Alsatians thought of my barbarian American eating habits. The people in the restaurant were too busy eating and enjoying their families.
The cost of my meal was under 13 Euros with the drink and meal, and I was full and happy for the rest of the day in Colmar and Strasbourg. So if you are in Colmar and are looking for a local eatery that caters mostly to locals and do not speak English and has great food, Le Palais des Legendes is the place to go for lunch or dinner. As the great Julia Child used to say, "Bon Appetit!
Le Palais des Legendes
14 Grand Rue
03 89 24 04 27