Strasbourg. Capital of the Region and Seat of the European Parliament
Thirty kilometres to the north we find the city of Strasbourg.
The capital of the Alsace and seat of the European Parliament and European Council, Strasbourg is a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic city. Many also see this city as the European capital of Christmas; during the Christmas period it expresses its multifaceted culture and traditions with markets dedicated to the various European countries, such as those in Place Gutenberg. Local artisan products are to be found in the great Place Broglie, where the Fédération Régionale des Métiers d’Art d’Alsace displays objects derived from ancient cultures.
The popularity of “Christkindelsmärik” to many tourists is also down to one of the most ancient traditions: the first Marché de Noël (christmas market) was staged here in 1570. These markets not only tell the story of the evolution of a traditional event, now common in all Europe, but that of the appearance of the customary Christmas trees.
In the Medieval period, as recorded in an ancient documented archived in the library of Sélestat (a town located between Obernai and Colmar), a tree was placed in the church and decorated with white apples to represent the tree of knowledge in Eden. Wafers were added to the fruit over time to strengthen the Eucharistic connection. Over the centuries the traditional of adorning the tree also with red and green apples came to be popular amongst the parishioners. At the end of the 16th century, paper decorations were also used and in the 17th century, gilded nuts and silver threads made their appearance. The wafers were replaced with almond sweets and anise bread. From then onwards the branches were decorated with moulds, garlands, wax angles and paper stars. The master glass blowers also added glass droplets and spheres. The Christmas tree came into being.
The city is rich in monuments and historical buildings. The double French-German identity makes Strasbourg fascinating and cosmopolitan; the best of the two nationalities lives on in its architecture, social structure, art and gastronomy. A perfect equilibrium of German consistency and French elegance.
The Cathedral is one of the most important works of architecture, an example of the highest expression of the Gothic style in Europe, a "marvel of greatness and beauty" as defined by Victor Hugo. From the 142 metre-high steeple you can take in the extraordinary spectacle of the view over Grande Île and all of Strasbourg. The façade portal is considered the greatest Bible of the Medieval in terms of its extraordinary narrative and symbolic force.
The Cathedral Square is the crossroads of the old town of Strasbourg that is overlooked by some of the city's most important buildings. Apart from the Cathedral, from which it takes its name, of immediate impact is the profile of the Maison Kammerzell, the most beautiful house in Strasbourg that was constructed by a rich cheese trader, Bronn, on the stone workshops (still visible). The upper section, Bronn's home and warehouse, was made in wood and decorated with animals, warriors and grotesque figures.
The more romantic visitors looking to capture a heart in Strasbourg, have a secret weapon in store: Petite-France, is the most intact and picture-postcard area of the old town. For many centuries it was inhabited by millers, tanners and fishermen. The houses in the Petite-France area have remained as they were in the 1500s, with pitched roofs, balconies adorned with flowers and windows overlooking the water. The barns and the warehouses have been replaced by artisans' workshops and souvenir shops, but the fascination of the area remains unchanged. One of the most photographed views of Petite-France is the “Ponts Couverts” (covered bridges) that have kept the name even though the coverage disappeared in the 1700s. The quarters of Petit-France, the squares and the lanes overlooking the canals feature hundreds of wooden chalets where you can sample traditional sweets and Alsace wines.
A visit to to the Rohan Palace Museums is a must. Constructed as accommodation for important bishops, this beautiful palace in the city is just a few metres from the Cathedral and houses 3 important museums: Fine Arts, Decorative Arts and the Archaeological Museum. All warrant a visit.