Serendipitous Strasbourg

Half-timbered buildings in La Petite France

We went to Strasbourg with the primary goal of seeing the Christmas market and if you read last Sunday’s blog post you will know that we succeeded far beyond our expectations. Not only did this “Capital of Christmas” have one market to commemorate the original one from 1570, there were 10 other sites around town, all celebrating the season. I’d read that the European Parliament chose to meet in Strasbourg because after the end of WWII it was seen as a symbol of reconciliation so important to this new Union. In the process of shopping our way around through the various encampments of vendors in wooden huts in locations around the city we also got to see monuments and other popular sites of the European mecca.

Strasbourg’s cathedral

On more than one must-see list for Strasbourg appears the Cathedral of Notre-Dame that was built over the 12th to 15th centuries so there’s a variety of styles from Romanesque to Gothic. Sharing space on the same Place is Maison Kammerzell, currently a hotel but originally a cheese baron’s beautiful mansion with foundations dating to 1427 and appears to have more windows than walls.

Given the massive size of the cathedral, it’s no wonder that a house specifically for all of the maintenance workers was established in 1349 as the Maison de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame. Two hundred years later the east wing was renovated to “modernize” it to match the newly added west wing, completed in 1585. Not far from there is the Place du Marché-aux-Cochons-de-Lait (Suckling Pig market place) the site of a market since the Middle Ages and surrounded by half-timbered Renaissance buildings.

With a recorded history of at least 2000 years, it’s not surprising to find numerous museums, often in structures that are as interesting as the collections they house. The museums of Fine Arts and of Decorative Arts are both contained inside the elegant Palais Rohan where the Bishop resided beginning in 1732. A nobleman’s house built in 1620 now displays what life was like in rural Alsace in the 18th century. The Historical Museum in the city’s former meat market, the Grande Boucherie, exhibits art from before the French Revolution while across the street things are brought more up-to-date with contemporary shops and restaurants in the former Customs House built in 1358.

Maison Kammerzell

For some outdoor green space activity we wandered around the oldest and largest park in the city, the Orangerie. Constructed in 1804 to honor and impress Napoleon’s empress Josephine, its lake and walking paths still welcome visitors. The Palais de l’Europe, used when the European Union Parliament is in session is just outside the park’s western edge.

Then for something completely different, we toyed with the idea of walking to Germany. It really is just across the Rhine river and there’s even a pedestrian bridge to make it easy but that walk was going to take an hour and there was still more to see “back home”. There’s a tram that cuts the journey time to only 15 minutes and we found it well worth the 3.30 euros each round-trip to quickly get to the German town of Kehl and then back across the border to France.

We’d been in Strasbourg 4 years ago, just for a day, and happily spent that time exploring only one part of the city called the Quartier des Tanneurs that 16th century tanners and fishermen called home. It’s also known as La Petite France because of its quintessential French village look complete with canals, winding cobble stoned lanes and half-timbered houses. No wonder we wanted to spend more days here and I could even see returning to the “Capital of Europe”.

Suckling pig market place

Practical information: We found the Strasbourg Tourism website to be especially helpful. Their office is by the cathedral where you can pick up and return the audio walking tour plus buy the 3-consecutive-day Strasbourg Pass that gives you 1 free museum visit, a viewing of the cathedral’s astronomical clock in action, and a canal cruise plus half-off that audio tour and another museum visit.

Orangerie for Napoleon’s Josephine
Entrance to Rohan Palace








Cathedral workers’ house








River/canal cruise

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