World Facts Index > France > Strasbourg

City Centre
The old city centres on the cathedral on the island formed by the river Ill's two branches. This picturesque quarter is the city's nerve centre as well. In front of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame,  the Place de la Cathédrale boasts a plethora of typical half-timbered houses including the 1268 Pharmacie du Cerf - the oldest druggist's in France, and the Maison Kammerzell which, besides being a masterpiece of wood sculpture, is also a popular restaurant and hotel. Sidewalk cafés all around allow the visitor to take in some refreshment along with the view of Notre-Dame. The cathedral's right side faces the Oeuvre Notre-Dame museum and the Palais Rohan , which houses the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Decorative Arts Museum), the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum) and the Musée Archéologique (Archaeological Museum).

Not far from the cathedral, the Place du Marché-Gayot offers trendy bars and student-occupied sidewalk tables. The adjacent Place Saint-Etienne gives onto a number of charming narrow streets leading to the Place Broglie, a long tree-lined square on which is found the Opéra with its stately columns and muses sculpted by Ohmacht. To the right, the Hôtel du Préfet is worth a gander as well. During the month of December, the Place Broglie is the scene of a lively Christmas market. The area is also home to the Grandes Arcades, a traditional shopping street which leads to the Place Kléber, itself bordered on the north side by the 18th-century Aubette . The Place Kléber is always humming with activity and hosts twice-weekly an open-air market where one may find many unpronouncable local products (flamenküche, bibeleskäs, etc.).

Petite France
Strasbourg's most picturesque and romantic quarter features narrow streets, the banks of the Ill, and half-timbered houses along the canal. Mills and tanneries (i.e., enterprises that needed plentiful water) once occupied the district, taking advantage of the many canals that pass through it. Here the visitor finds traditional shops selling handmade products, as well as quite a few restaurants. Take the kids to the Parc de l'Homme Qui Rêve to admire Alsatian houses festooned with geraniums or decorated for Christmas, indeed, the prettiest season of the year thanks to a charm that transcends time. Take advantage of the sidewalk tables at the Pont Saint-Martin; have a stroll along the riverfront; enjoy the view of the entire neighbourhood (including the Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain [Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art]) from the Ponts Couverts (Covered Bridges), a series of three 14th-century bridges astride the Ill.

Whence the name of Petite France (Little France)? In the 16th century, the district was home to a hospital specialising in venereal diseases; the Alsatians blamed France for the proliferation of such maladies, attributing them in part to soldiers returning from the wars in Italy, and thus nicknamed the quarter "Zum Französel" or, in French, "Petite France".

Quartier Allemand
The Quartier Allemand (German District), showcase of German neoclassical architecture in Strasbourg, centres around the Place de la République, a vast square around a small wooded park housing a 1936 monument to war dead sculpted by Drivier. A number of imposing, impressive buildings face the square, most ex-German palaces now converted to public uses; these include the Bibliothèque Nationale Universitaire (National University Library), the Théâtre National de Strasbourg (Strasbourg National Theatre), the prefecture, and the Palais du Rhin (Palace of the Rhine). The neighbourhood also symbolises the city's cultural and religious pluralism: here, for example, can be found the Synagogue de la Paix (Synagogue of Peace), built in 1955 to replace an older edifice destroyed by the Nazis in 1940. The synagogue faces the tranquil Parc des Contades.

Off the Place de la République one can follow the Avenue de la Marseillaise and discover a number of buildings of interest. On the Place du Général Eisenhower, at the confluence of the Ill and the Aar, sits the neo-Gothic church of Saint-Paul. From here one can see 19th-century German architect Otto Warth's Palais Universitaire (Palace of the University), which for over a century has housed the University of Strasbourg's history and archaeology faculties. After visiting the interior of this structure, one may explore the botanical garden and directly behind it, the Strasbourg Planetarium.

Orangerie, Quartier des XV
This most prestigious district in town dates from the 19th century and, accordingly, is made up of sturdy bourgeois buildings, former hôtels particuliers and lovely parks. Strasbourg's political centre is also here thanks to the Palais des Droits de l'Homme (Palace of Human Rights), the European Parliament and the European Council which gives onto the Parc de l'Orangerie, largest and most beautiful of Strasbourg's parks. The park was laid out by Le Nôtre in 1804 in anticipation of a visit by Empress Joséphine; today families come to take walks, go for canoe rides and visit monkeys, lynx and storks at the zoo. Also not be missed is the Buerehiesel, a gorgeous 17th-century half-timbered house. The Orangerie borders on the European Council, whose immense glass façade is often reflected in the water.

Just down the street are the Palais de la Musique et des Congrès (Music and Convention Centre), the Maison de la Télévision (Television Centre), and the Wacken area, whose own convention centre hosts events like the Foire Européenne (European Fair), the Foire Saint-Jean (Saint John's Fair), and the Egast.

Krutenau, Finkwiller
These southern neighbourhoods have historically been inhabited by fishermen, boatmen and market gardeners. Today La Krut, as it is known locally, is a studenty district within which are located the main university faculties as well as the hippest, cheapest bars in town (try the Café des Anges or the Elastic). In this decidedly informal district one often sees what appears to be the entire student population of Strasbourg relaxing at sidewalk cafés and in various foreign restaurants (Lebanese, Greek, Portuguese, etc.). While visiting the area, one can't help but notice the striking churches of Saint-Guillaume and Sainte-Madeleine.

The Finkwiller district, bordered by the faculty of medicine, the Strasbourg public hospital, the departmental government building and the Petite France neighbourhood, is also home to the churches of Saint-Nicolas and Saint-Louis, as well as a host of good restaurants including La Choucrouterie (The Sauerkrautery), La Coccinelle (The Ladybug), and La Cuiller à Pot (The Ladle), and lively bars like the Tapas Café which will be particularly appreciated by night owls. 

History of Strasbourg

Strasbourg, the modern capital of Europe, also boasts a rich and varied past that has made an indelible mark on the local culture and architecture. People in the avant-garde Strasbourg of today may get around using an economical, attractive and environmentally-friendly light rail system; they may live in the city of the Conseil de l'Europe and the Palais des Droits de l'Homme (Palace of Human Rights); but they are also surrounded at all times by a local history that begins in Antiquity and has ever since been shaped by the city's position at the crossroads of Europe.

Strasbourg was born in the year 12 B.C., and grew out of both the Roman military camp Argentoratum and Strateburgum, the neighbouring fishing and hunting village from which the city takes its name. This Strateburgum, "City of Roads," was truly the crossroads of Europe, a traveller's stopover but also the frequent target of invaders from the east. Accordingly, historic Strasbourg is where the first known text in (Old) French'the famous Serment de Strasbourg, pronounced in 842 by Louis le Débonnaire's two sons and their men, was written.

Much later, when Strasbourg had become a free Imperial city, it was the scene of numerous important scientific, religious, and artistic events. The current Place Gutenberg celebrates the inventor of movable type, who developed his invention right here before taking it to Mayence. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Strasbourg was a major stage for Calvin's Reformation. In 1725, Louis XV was married to Marie Leszgynska in the Cathédrale Notre Dame, which was built between 1015 and 1365. The rich artistic history of Strasbourg includes concerts by Mozart and Goethe's long stay here; around the same time, many Parisian-influenced hôtels particuliers (private mansions) were built in central Strasbourg, as was the monumental Palais Rohan .

The city has always been torn between Germany and France. Even today, Strasbourg is subject to the double influence, by turns beneficial and oppressive, of the two giants on whose border it lies. Ironically, it is here that the French national anthem got its start: on April 24, 1792, during a farewell dinner honoring volunteers in the Rhine army, mayor Frédéric de Dietrich asked Rouget de Lisle to compose a song to rally the troops; the result was the "Marseillaise". Nevertheless, this border town has often fallen under German control. Among the monuments of Strasbourg are some landmarks in German Neoclassicism, including the Palais du Rhin (Palace of the Rhine), the Théâtre National de Strasbourg (Strasbourg National Theatre), and the Bibliothèque Nationale Universitaire (National University Library), all situated near the Place de la République. These important edifices were all damaged in the World Wars, but in the years since the buildings, and Germano-Alsatian relations as well, have been fully restored.

Today Strasbourg is at the centre of European politics as it shares with Luxembourg and Brussels the privilege of hosting major European Union institutions. The European Council, which was created on May 5, 1949 and which is made up of representatives from 41 member nations, sits in session in a contemporary complex next to the Parc de l'Orangerie.

A city of importance in all eras, Strasbourg impresses today by the harmonic coexistence of its vibrant modernism and its historical heritage. Roman, Germanic, and French cultures have made their marks here, and throughout the city's history all have contributed to the specificity that is Alsatian culture.


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