Located adjacent to the French-German border in Eastern France sits the city of Strasbourg. The city is situated in the historically and culturally rich region of Alsace. Due to this very reason, the city is a host to classic and exemplary medieval architecture. An amalgamation of French and German influence has shaped the architecture of this city over the years.
Notably, the architecture of Strasbourg has survived the unprecedented destruction brought on by World War II in Europe, unlike that of many of its contemporaries. Let us take you through the highlights of the magnificent medieval architecture of Strasbourg.
The Historical Architecture of Strasbourg
The most well-known architecture of Strasbourg is possibly the Medieval-era buildings and historic neighbourhoods with interesting half-timbered houses. The city is filled with many historical landmarks, with the most famous one being the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, known commonly as the Strasbourg Cathedral. (Kiesel, 2019)
First erected in 1015, this monumental red-sandstone cathedral presently holds the title of the sixth-tallest church in the world. The cathedral is a reconstruction of an even older Romanesque style church, traces of which can be found today as well. However, the reconstruction was done in the Rayonnant Gothic style. The magnificence of its architecture is such that the cathedral has been described famously as a “sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God,” and a “gigantic and delicate marvel” by Goethe and Victor Hugo, respectively. (Kiesel, 2019)
Another similar architectural masterpiece in Strasbourg, straight from history, is the Palais Rohan, or the Rohan Place. The interior rooms are visibly influenced by the grandeur of Versailles, and the palace is often considered a perfect example of French Baroque architecture. This building was designed by Robert de Cotte and was built in the 1730s. The Palais Rohan presently houses three museums: the Decorative Arts Museum, the Fine Arts Museum, and the Archaeological Museum. (Kiesel, 2019)
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Strasbourg’s central island, the Grande Île, is home to La Petite France, a medieval district. The Ill River and the Canal du Faux-Rempart divide Strasbourg’s Grande Île from the rest of the city. As a result, access to water has shaped the history of the beautiful La Petite France neighbourhood. During the Middle Ages, the canals were utilized by tanners, millers, and fishers to easily export their wares. La Petite France is still known as Quartier des Tanneurs (or Gerberviertel in German), which translates to “Tanner’s Quarter”. Canals, footbridges, and half-timbered homes that follow the water come together as elements to re-create the medieval experience. (Kiesel, 2019)
Owing to the historical fact that Strasbourg was a successful printing centre in the past, it might be of little surprise that we find a square dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg in this city. However, the primary reason for the La Place Gutenberg or the Gutenberg Square to exist in the first place is another historical fact that Gutenberg invented mechanical movable type printing while he was in Strasbourg. The square in itself is a combination of various exquisite creations of importance: a statue of Gutenberg, the Renaissance-era Chamber of Commerce building, and an ancient Roman road called Rue des Hallebardes. (Kiesel, 2019)
The Modern Side of Strasbourg
History shapes the present. This is especially true when it comes to the context of Strasbourg. Historically, the region has been rich in architecture and art, and it was only natural that Strasbourg would continue to be so in the present. The first example in this regard would be the Strasbourg-Ville railway station. Serving as a bridge between the past and the present, the core building is built in a Revival-style of the architecture of the Wilhelminian period, while the new façade is a typical modern curvilinear glass and steel façade. The original building was designed in the late 19th century by architect Johann Eduard Jacobsthal while the glass-shell was designed by architect Jean-Marie Duthilleul and completed in 2006. (seele, n.d.)
The city of Strasbourg welcomed the era of hi-tech architecture with the European Court of Human Rights building designed by Richard Rogers Partnership. (spacesXplaces, 2017) Completed in 1995, this has become an iconic project worldwide.
The design produces a symbolic landmark instead of a monument because the nature of the function necessitates that its facilities be warm and welcoming instead of intimidating. The preservation and enhancement of the site’s quality, as well as operational efficiency and a “natural” atmosphere, were all priorities in the design process. (RSHP, 2020)
Paving the way for Strasbourg’s future of architecture are works like the Hoenheim-Nord Terminus and Car Park by Zaha Hadid Architects. The concept explores the nature of a tram system with the form as a representation of the ‘energetic’ nature of transport vehicles.
With such projects coming up as the field of architecture constantly evolves, the city of Strasbourg continues to make its architectural presence felt in the local region as well as the global stage. But, moreover, Strasbourg brings with its architecture and experience, a nostalgic hint of the past and what has been, the present-day European cityscape and a glimpse into the possible future of the city. Such is an experience that may be cherished by visitors and city dwellers alike. (Zaha Hadid Architects, 2009)
- Kiesel, C. (2019). Visit Alsace — Discover the Medieval Town of Strasbourg. [online] Experi. Available at: https://experi.com/journal/visit-alsace-discover-the-medieval-town-of-strasbourg/ [Accessed 25 Jul. 2021].
- RSHP (2020). European Court of Human Rights. [online] www.designingbuildings.co.uk. Available at: https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/European_Court_of_Human_Rights [Accessed 25 Jul. 2021].
- seele (n.d.). Strasbourg Railway Station. [online] seele façade construction. Available at: https://seele.com/references/strasbourg-railway-station [Accessed 25 Jul. 2021].
- spacesXplaces (2017). STRASBOURG | FRANCE | – ARCHITECTURE CITY GUIDE. [online] spacesXplaces. Available at: https://www.spacesxplaces.com/strasbourg-france-architecture-city-guide/ [Accessed 25 Jul. 2021].
- Zaha Hadid Architects (2009). Hoenheim-Nord Terminus and Car Park – Zaha Hadid Architects. [online] Zaha-hadid.com. Available at: https://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/hoenheim-nord-terminus-and-car-park/ [Accessed 25 Jul. 2021].