The beautiful city of Strasbourg lies a few miles west of the Rhine River on the Ill River. Nothing sickly at all about this ancient French city that was established more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans. These towers on the Ill River were once part of the medieval fortifications that surrounded the inner city.
The old center of the city is filled with half-timbered homes and buildings that are several hundred years old. Little cafes and coffee houses are tucked away in side alleys and byways. Like many towns in Europe, the good citizens of Strasbourg are passionate about their flowering window boxes and all of the bridges contain flowering plants hanging from the railings.
Strasbourg is situated in France close to the German and Swiss borders. As a result, there is a lot of interactions between these countries. Over the centuries, France and Germany have long fought over this region and its rulers have switched hands many times. In the 19th and 20th centuries it would have been possible to have been born a German, get married as a Frenchman, and pass on as a German again. Perhaps a more accurate description of the culture and history of Strasbourg would be “Frano-German.” The most recent power shift was in late 1944 when Strasbourg was liberated by the French and American armies.
One kind of weird note from the city’s colorful history was the dancing plague of 1518. It started on a July day when a woman known as Frau Troffer stepped into a street in Strasbourg and started dancing. By the end of the week, dozens and eventually hundreds of people suddenly began manic dancing that involved shaking, leaping, and hopping and they danced non-stop until they dropped dead from exhaustion or heart attacks. Non-dancers sometimes actually tried to stop them by playing music to ward off whatever it was that was causing the problem but, predictably, this often seemed to induce more dancers. Actually, this phenomena was not unique to Strasbourg. Several cities across Western Europe saw these dance crazes and even today nobody really knows what caused this disco frenzy but researches now believe that it was some sort of mass psychosis brought on by stress. Huh?
The most famous landmark in Strasbourg is the famous Strasbourg Cathedral — also known as the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Built on the site of a former Roman temple, construction started in 1015. After a fire in the 12th century, the cathedral was rebuilt using the red sandstone that you can see today. The stained glass dates to the 12th century and for a time, this cathedral was the tallest building in the world. During the reformation it became a protestant church but when the area passed from German to French control in the 17th century (one of the many, many times this area changed hands) it again became a catholic church.
Strasbourg is a great place to visit. Between the cathedral, the old towers and fortifications, the fascinating old city center, and the food there is much to see and do. Don’t miss it on your next trip to France.
Travel safe. Have fun. Don’t dance too much.