on the Franco-German border, over the centuries,
Strasbourg has been passed back and forward like
a ping-pong ball between these two countries.
Annexed to France in 1681, after centuries of self-rule, Strasbourg
was subject to German control from 1871 until the end of World War
I and again between 1940 and 1944. The result is a city and people
with a strong and distinctive local identity, combining the reputed
efficiency and work ethic of the Germans with the lightness and
sophistication of the French.
The name Strasbourg comes from Strateburgum, ‘the
city of the roads’, because of its strategic geographical
position on the west bank of the Rhine. Today, it could be called
‘the city of the trams’, due to an excellent and recently
expanded tram network.
Strasbourg was already a thriving commercial centre in the Middle
Ages, when building began on the impressive Cathédrale
Notre-Dame. Its intellectual and artistic heights were
reached during the Renaissance. In 1566, the university was founded
and leading figures of the Reformation settled in Strasbourg. Religious
strife caused considerable upheaval during the 16th and 17th centuries,
although the 1681 annexation of the city by France brought stability
and enabled Strasbourg to reassert its economic strength.
Its symbolic significance as a major European city was confirmed
when it was chosen as the seat of the Council of Europe
in 1949, the European Court of Human Rights
in 1994 and the European Parliament, the position
of which was finally guaranteed in 1992. After Paris, Strasbourg
is now France’s most important diplomatic town.
is far enough away from the capital to be truly independent on a
cultural level, with its own opera, France’s only national
theatre outside Paris, two international music festivals and Europe’s
only bi-national TV station, Arte. Its international student population,
some 50,000 strong, keeps strasbourg vibrant and intellectually
alive. The City is host to the permanent campus of the International
Space University (ISU) and the Ecole Nationale
d’Administration (ENA), the prestigious French Grandes
Ecoles that relocated to Strasbourg in 1992.
The Grande Ile (Big Island) is the heart of the
city, encircled by the Ill River and Fossé
du Faux-Rempart canal. The dominant landmark in Strasbourg
is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame in the Vieille
Ville (Old Town). It has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages.
Around the Cathedral, an impressive collection of museums is clustered.
The central square is place Kléber, named
after the brilliant Strasbourg-born military officer, Jean-Baptiste
Kléber (1753–1800), who was singled out by
Napoleon Bonaparte for high office in Egypt. Close
by is place Gutenberg, named after Johannes
Gutenberg, who resided in Strasbourg between 1434 and 1444,
perfecting his famed printing press with moveable metal type. The
main streets (rue des Grandes Arcades and the parallel rue des Francs
Bourgeois) are remarkably small and pedestrian friendly.
The Petite France area in the Grande Ile’s
southwestern corner, crossed by canals, is Strasbourg’s medieval
quarter and classed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Its half-timbered houses and narrow streets could not be more different
from the ultra-modern City of Europe to the northeast of the city.
Strasbourg enjoys the semi-continental
climate of the Alsace region, with sunny, warm and dry conditions.
Nevertheless, because of the traditional Christmas market,
the peak tourist season extends from May right through to the end