I’ll always have pleasant memories of New Year’s 2012 in Strasbourg. Upon arrival, I was a bit overwhelmed with all there was to see—the historic city center lined with timber framed houses and shops decorated for the holidays, the colourful medieval backstreets of the Petite France district, the towering 142 meter-high gothic cathedral that reaches for the skies yet watches down over the city, the pedestrian promenades along the River Ill which circle the town on all sides, the museums rich with their collections of art and historical artefacts, and the traditional Alsatian gastronomy which include baeckeoffe, flammekueche, choucroute, gingerbread and lots of white wine—all this and only four days to explore and experience. My hotel was not far from the city center near Le Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain. Although I paid only 10 Euros for entry into all of the museums, I did not make it inside of this amazing building but managed to get a few shots of the exterior in the time that I was there. Established by Adrien Fainsilber in 1998, the museum retraces the history of modern art from the 1850s to present day. A little further east is the Vauban Barrage, one of the only buildings that remains from the old enclosure built around the city towards 1690 by JacquesTarade, based on plans by the military engineer Vauban. The building, also called the “Grande Ecluse” (Great Lock) stretches over the width of the river, opposite the covered bridges. At the top of the building a panoramic terrace was constructed, from where you can appreciate a splendid view over the Petite France district and its canals. At one end of the Petite France district are the Ponts Couverts (Covered Bridges). This succession of three bridges linking arms with the River Ill is dominated by three 14th century towers, remains of the ancient medieval ramparts, which totalised 90 towers. The bridges themselves were once capped by a wooden roof. Despite the disappearance of this cover in the 18th century, they are still called covered bridges. Each tower has its own name—the Hangman’s Tower, the French Tower and the Tower of Chains—fitting as they were once used to house prisoners awaiting execution or transfer. Across the Ponts Couverts is the Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes lined with timber-framed corbelled houses dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, once the fisherman’s, tanners’ and millers’ district and one of the best preserved areas of the old town. A short distance from the Petite France district is Protestant Église Saint-Thomas with its 18th century mausoleum of Marshall Maurice de Saxe (1777), created by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. The allegorical sculpture represents France weeping and holding the marshal’s hand while trying to push Death aside. Among the remarkable monuments are the Renaissance tombstone of Nikolaus Roeder von Tiersberg (1510) notable for its realistic depiction of his decaying corpse and the sarcophagus of Bishop Adeloch which dates from 1130. The church is internationally renowned for its historic and musically-significant organs: the 1741 Silbermann organ, played by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1778, and the 1905 organ (installed in 1906) built by Fritz Haerpfer, following a design by Albert Schweitzer. On the south wall is a large 15th century fresco of the Archangel Michael slaying the dragon. Inside the small chapel to Saint Andrew are the remains of a medieval fresco depicting the Crucifixion. It has one unusual feature: Christ’s head inclines to the right (in medieval art, he normally inclines it to the left). Another interesting church in Strasbourg is the Église Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux (Catholic Church of Saint Peter the Elder) from 1866. The neo-gothic tympanum above the western portal depicts Christ in Majesty as well as scenes from the New Testament.
Inside, the choir is richly decorated with woodwork paintings from 1495 by Henri Lutzelmann depicting Christ’s Passion. To the right of the main altar is the neo-gothic altarpiece depicting the life of the Virgin and a Romanian icon with the inscription "Notre-Dame du perpétuel recours". One of the first things I did on the night that I arrived was have dinner at the famous Maison Kemmerzell. This impressive timber-frame building with its distinctive slanted roof is one of the most picturesque dwellings on the Cathedral Square. An earlier 15th century structure (of which only the stone ground floor remains) was purchased by a wealthy merchant, Martin Braun in 1571. He commissioned the building of the upper stories which he had decorated with elaborate wood carvings of the signs of the zodiac, the five senses, the ages of man and mythological heroes. The interior has been a restaurant for many years serving local delicacies including the famous choucroute garnie served with eight different meats. It was certainly delicious but way too much ham. A visit to Strasbourg isn’t complete until you’ve visited Notre-Dame Cathedral built with pink sandstone from the Vosges region.
Work began in 1015 on the site of a temple dedicated to Hercules. In 1365, the towers were joined together up to the platform and then the north tower was raised. In 1439, Johann Hültz from Cologne added the spire which gives the cathedral its impressive outline. The exterior of the cathedral is a lacy masterpiece of gothic art extended over slightly more than four centuries, from 1015 to 1439. The 142 meter-high cathedral remained the highest building in Christendom up until the end of the nineteenth century. The best position to get an overall view of the magnificent façade is from Rue Mercière. The tympana of its three doors are dedicated to the life of Christ. The façade’s most richly decorated portal is in the center and displays statues of the prophets of the Old Testament. In the four registers one can read scenes from the Old and New Testament, with the Passion of Christ as the central. A statue of the Virgin is located above the tympanum, which itself is surmounted by a statue of Christ, King and Judge, whose throne is surrounded by musical lions. The arches of the left portal are decorated with 14th century statues representing the graceful Virtues striking down the Vices. Around the tympanum are angels and other biblical characters while the subject of the register of the tympanum is Christ’s childhood (his birth, fleeing to Egypt, and Presentation at the Temple). The right portal is perhaps the most famous and illustrates the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The Wise Virgins each carry a lamp and the open Table of Law and beside them is the ideal husband. As for the five Foolish Virgins, they are holding their lamps upside down and beside them is the devil holding the apple of temptation. The register of the tympanum depicts the Last Judgement. I was unable to see the south lateral portal because of all the construction work going on in this section of the cathedral square. The only portion that remained open was the entry to the platform where a huge line of tourists waiting to walk to the top of the church. On the north side of the cathedral is the 15th century St-Laurence doorway. On the left are the statues of the Virgin Mary, the three kings and a shepherd; on the right are five statues illustrating the martyrdom of St-Laurence. The interior has stained-glass windows from the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries which are simply magnificent. Work on the nave began in the 13th century. One of the most beautiful pieces of work is the hexagonal pulpit designed by Hans Hammer for the Reformation preacher Geiler of Kayserberg. It is decorated with 50 or so statuettes including the preacher’s own dog which lies down at the foot of the staircase. The organ has a magnificent polychrome organ case (14th and 15th century) spanning the full width of a bay. The corbelled loft is carved with a representation of Sampson with a town herald blowing a trumpet on the left and a pretzel seller known as Rohraffe on the right. These articulated characters would sometimes come to life during the sermons to entertain the congregation. The Pillar of Angels was construction around 1230 and serves as the central pillar of the south transept. It features twelve sculptures: the four evangelists, angels playing the trumpet and, further up, Christ the Judge, seated and surrounded by angels carrying the Instruments of the Passion. The cathedrals most popular feature is the astronomical clock which was designed by mathematicians and built by Swiss clock-makers between 1550 and 1574. It stopped in 1780 but Schwilgué, a native of Strasbourg, studied it for thirty years and then rebuilt it between 1838 and 1842. The seven days of the week are represented by chariots led by gods, who appear through an opening beneath the dial. A series of automata strikes twice every fifteen minutes. The hours are struck by Death. On the last stoke, the second angel of the Lion’s Gallery reverses his hourglass. The astronomical clock is half an hour behind normal time. The midday chiming occurs at 12:30pm. As it happens, a great parade takes place in the recess at the top of the clock. The Apostles pass in front of Christ and bow to him; Jesus blesses them as the cock, perched on the left-hand tower flaps his wings and crows three times, a reminder of Peter’s denial of Christ. The cathedral owns 14 splendid 17th century tapestries depicting scenes from the Life of the Virgin, designed by Philippe de Champaigne, Charles Poerson and Jacques Stella. They are normally hung in the cathedral’s Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame but are hung between the bays of the cathedral during special occasions such as the Christmas season. Kléber Square is the heart of the city. It got its name in 1840 after General Kléber, a brilliant military strategist assassinated by a Syrian student in Cairo in 1800. Having won many important battles, his popularity was large in France and it was decided that his body would be laid to rest in his native city of Strasbourg. Every Christmas, a giant and marvellously decorated Christmas tree from the Vosges illuminates the square. I thought that this illuminated village at the foot of the tree looked especially nice at night. It's always wise to keep warm with a mug of vin chaud (warm wine) when you are wandering around all of the different Christmas markets spread throughout the town. Man oh man this article is getting long and unwieldy...I'm going to end for now and just make several smaller posts. Enjoy.