Strasbourg and Cathedral Millennium: “1015-2015”

Known as ‘town of the crossroads’ the city of Strasbourg has always occupied a strategic position in Europe. Throughout the centuries from the Middle Ages, it has forged its distinctive character based on its two major influences, French and German. The city is on the River Ill and has an important inland port. It is situated in Alsace in NE France close to the border with Germany and is recognised as one of the finest cities on the “Old Continent”. It has a treasure of Imperial and other styles of architecture, several institutions offering a rare cultural diversity and a variety of indoor places and outdoor spaces of parks, gardens and others to explore.
Originally a Roman camp called Argentoratum, it served as a defensive fort. The streets of this small fortified area built on marshy land bordering the Ill later became the city of Strasbourg. In 1262 Strasbourg became a free city of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire and behind its fortified walls, power gravitated around the emblematic Pfalz or town hall. Strasbourg was annexed to France in 1681 as Louis XV realised its strategic importance. In 1792 the city was left in a terrible state with many churches destroyed or damaged during the French Revolution. In 1870 after the Franco-Prussian war, Strasbourg was annexed to the newly established German empire. The city was rebuilt and developed on a grand scale and ornamental style of the period as the Neue Stadt or new city.  After the 1918 Armistice which ended WW1 hostilities Alsace was restored to France.
Following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 the entire city was evacuated but with the fall of France in 1940 Alsace was again annexed by Germany. After the liberation in 1944 it was returned to France when Strasbourg became the symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany. Since 1949 the city has expanded to incorporate buildings of modern architecture in what is known as the European District with several European and other institutions.  It is the headquarters of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament.
Strasbourg hosts the oldest Christmas market in Europe dating from 1570. It attracts many thousands of visitors for the annual ‘festival of lights’ described as a unique feast for the eyes and for the soul.  In recent years the large central Christmas market has been extended to areas across the city with decorative lighting to enhance the many stalls adding to the magic of the month long event. The city organises numerous spiritual and humanist activities along the theme “Strasbourg, Capital of Christmas’ with concerts, shows, exhibitions, actions in favour of solidarity and other special events.
In addition to Strasbourg’s rich cultural heritage through the centuries, the city’s historical centre, ‘Grande-Ile’, was granted UNESCO patronage in 1988 and is a protected World Heritage site.
Cathedral Millennium
‘Upon Seeing Strasbourg Cathedral’, the first two lines from a poem written by a stranger in 1764, read … That hallow’d spire which rises to the skies, Fills ev’ry heart with rapture and surprise …
Constructed in pink sandstone and described as the “jewel in the crown”, Notre-Dame Cathedral is a monumental and inspiring sight.  In a programme Millennium of the Foundations of the Cathedral 1015-2015 many spiritual, musical and cultural events were organised to celebrate its one thousandth anniversary including spectacles of music and colour with dramatic lighting effects to decorate the façade of the Cathedral. It is on record as the most visited cathedral in France after Notre-Dame in Paris.
It is a lacy and intricate masterpiece of Gothic art with numerous sculptures and art forms and remained the highest building in Christendom up to the end of the nineteenth century. Its platform is built at a height of 66 metres and the single spire is 132 metres high, topped by its 10 metre high point. The upper part of the Cathedral (excluding the spire’s point) is exactly the same height as the lower part.
The platform is accessible via a 332 steps staircase. The superb view from the platform extends far across the city, particularly the typical traditional roofs in the centre, to the Alsace Plain, the Vosges and the Black Forest.  A few of the Cathedral’s many characteristics are the rich sculptures of the three Doors, the Rose (Escutcheon) featuring a decoration of 32 ears of corn symbolising the richness of the city during the Middle Ages, the ‘Apostles’ Gallery’ just above the Rose depicting the twelve disciples in a disciplined line. Its rich interior includes the Great Organ, the Pulpit intricately woven in a single piece of stone construction, the Astronomical Clock with a mechanism that is unique in the world and a precious work of art.  At 12.30 each day its automata come to life in the fascinating ‘Apostles Parade’. The Angel Pillar nearby is considered a masterpiece in vertical construction and a technical prodigy of its day.
Ita Marguet, November 2015
Note:     Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text.  It follows a visit to Strasbourg and its Cathedral, November 2015.