Strasbourg listed for the second time as a World Heritage Site! – Meanderings through France n° 128
By Frederic de Poligny
A month ago, in Cracovia the UNESCO World Heritage committee decided to honour for the second time the French city of Strasbourg. This marvellous capital city of Alsace was already labelled for its Cathedral and its half-timbered houses district. Strasbourg this time was awarded for the NeuStadt district also known as the German district.
Strasburg’s turbulent history
During a long period of its history, Strasbourg was a “free-city” with strong links with Rhineland, until 1681 when Louis XIV, the Sun King, conquered the city that was immediately included in the French kingdom. The city walls already impressive were strengthened under the control of Vauban the most famous military architect of this time. And to ensure the protection of the city, any construction, house or even farm, was banned on a large stretch of land outside the walls.
Two centuries later, after the disaster of the Franco-Prussian war, Alsace and Lorraine regions were included in the brand-new German Empire. And Strasbourg was named capital of this new German province. To mark this conquest, the Kaisers Wilhem I and after 1881 his grand-son Wilhem II decided to enlarge the city which was blocked into its walls, creating a new district in the eastern outside glacis.
Strasbourg Neustadt district
This “NeuStadt” (new district) was built from nothing in a very modern way. At the same time, Haussmann in Paris was creating the new face of Paris demolishing unhealthy areas, opening large new avenues linked with beautiful stone buildings. In Strasbourg Neustadt, no need of demolitions on this virgin land – a part from a little portion of the walls – and only a bridge over the canalized river was needed to link Neustadt to the old city centre.
The main architect was Jean Geoffroy Conrath, of Strasbourg origin. He designed wide right-angle streets lined up with a mix of large public buildings and residential ones with all modern facilities, electricity and tap water. The general style was a mixture of neo-Renaissance, neo-Gothic and Art-Nouveau styles. The Kaiser Palace, the huge Imperial Library, a broad Post Office building, the beautiful public baths and a great university are some of the main public buildings that can be discovered in Neustadt. There you will also find several large squares, green spaces and a few little canals that add a touch of poetry in this very classical architecture.
A new tourism opportunity
A few days before the UNESCO committee meeting in Cracovia, during a lunch with Roland Ries, the mayor of Strasbourg, we talked about this second apply for World Heritage registration. For him, this should be the best option to promote his town. Too many tourists, even repeater ones ignore this part of the city which is so close to the old city centre et which is full of wonderful places to discover.
Neustadt is a so peaceful zone compared to the busy little streets around the Cathedral and in “La Petite France” the iconic place, even if both are not to be missed. Roland Ries added that in the German Empire many towns were at that time modified in the same style but at the end of the last World War, these city centres were widely bombed and reduced to ashes. And now Neustadt is the last of such districts entirely preserved and is worth to be listed as a World Heritage site.
Neustadt is worth a daylong visit, at least a half-day. The will of Strasbourg ‘s authorities with this touristic link between the old centre and the “German quarter” is also to present the town as the symbol of the new peaceful and friendly Franco-German reconciliation. From 1870 till 1944, Strasbourg has changed nationality four times, being under German rules during 52 years over a total period of 75 years. This sad period is over and Strasbourg want to expose the best that this complicated history has offered to the city, to these inhabitants and to the world.
All info: Strasbourg Tourism Office: www.otstrasbourg.fr
Text and Photos ©Frederic de Poligny