Saturday, November 10, 2007

Strasbourg, The Silver City, LOWER ALSACE

Strasbourg France

The Island on the Silver River

The center of the city, particularly picturesque with its 15th and 16th century dwellings, is a small island encircled by the river Ill. Strolling through this area is probably the best way to experience the true atmosphere of the city. There is nothing more pleasurable than to wander the narrow streets bordered by medieval half-timbered homes, built close to one another, with their pointed rooftops pierced with dormers. Arising from amidst these medieval streets is the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral. The square where the cathedral sits however is never protected from the wind. Legend says that the devil hoped for his image to be forever represented in the cathedral and he therefore asked the wind to bring him to it and to wait outside as he entered the cathedral. When he could not find a statue of himself, he became enraged, and so violently stamped his foot that a stained glass window aspirated him. Since that day, the wind is still waiting for him outside!

The Origin of the Cathedral

According to history, and perhaps legend, Clovis, the King of the Francs, was at the origin of the construction of a church built in honor of the Virgin Mary at the exact location of the present day cathedral. Clovis did not share his wife Clothilde’s faith. She wanted her husband to become Catholic. Clovis, wishing to extend his kingdom to the present day Alsace region and Germany, attacked the Alamans (a German tribe) in Tolbiac in 496. After a difficult fight, he promised his wife’s God that he would convert to Catholicism and build a cathedral in honor of the Virgin Mary if he won this battle. Soon afterward, the King of the Alamans was mortally wounded by an arrow. The German soldiers, understanding that their God had abandoned them, fled, and Clovis won the difficult battle. True to his word, he was baptized a Catholic in Reims in 496, and the construction of the cathedral began in 510.

Musée alsacien- Museum

Strasbourg France
The Astronomic Clock

The astronomic clock is an absolute treasure of the cathedral. Truly an architectural and technical feat, the clock is the fruit of the labor of a professor of mathematics, a physician, a clockmaker and an artist. The clock we admire today was begun in 1547. A variety of information is provided by the clock thanks to the automatons at four different levels. At the first level, antique Greco-roman divinities parade by every day, atop chariots, to mark the seven days of the week. Two cherubs with open wings sit on both sides of the face of the clock on the upper level. The one on the left hits a gong at each quarter of the hour, the one on the right holds an hourglass in his hands and turns it every hour. On the third level, the four ages of life, symbolized by a child, an adolescent, a mature man and an elderly man, pass every quarter hour in front of death represented by a skeleton. Finally on the fourth level, we see Christ in front of whom the Apostles pass by, bow, and receive His benediction, while a rooster spreads its wings and sings. Originally this scene would mark the twelve strokes of noon. However, the priests, who were annoyed by the rapid departure of the faithful prior to the end of the mass -- to admire the clock --, delayed the "presentation" until twelve thirty.

The Market Place and the Covered Bridges
During Medieval times, it was on this square that piglets were sold. It remains one of the city’s more picturesque sites with its seventeenth and eighteenth century homes. The most famous of these homes is situated at the number 1, with its chimney adorned with a peculiar weather vane. It is not a rooster, or the four cardinal points that we traditionally find perched a top French roofs, but a laced boot. Legend says that when the Emperor Sigismond visited the city in 1414, the ladies invited him to a ball. However, having walked for miles in the snow, his boots were in terrible shape. The ladies generously decided to offer the Emperor a brand new pair of laced boots that they purchased at the boot maker’s store located at the number 1 of the said square.
At this location the Ill River divides itself into many tributaries. During the twelfth century, wooden bridges were built and reinforced by three solid towers that were the first barriers to protect the city from eventual invasions. The bridges are said to be covered because of the immense roofs that were added in the sixteenth century. The roofs disappeared in 1784, and the wooden bridges were replaced by stone ones between 1860 and 1870. But the towers remain as a sign of a not so glorious past. The Executioner’s Tower is made up of minuscule cells where the condemned waited anxiously as their fate was decided. The names they would engrave into the walls of the tower to kill time or to hide their anguish are still noticeable. The French Tower was frequented by the soldiers of François the First looking for gallant adventures. Finally the third tower, said to be "of chains", served as a prison for the galley slaves waiting for their transfer by way of the river.

The Emblem of Alsace: the Stork
Strasbourg France
For many centuries storks were part of the Alsatian scenery. Once very numerous, they would return every year from Africa to announce the coming of spring in France. However they have been on the decline in recent years. Luckily, efforts have been made to help the storks return and make their nests in the Alsatian trees and roofs of homes. Mission accomplished, as they now have returned more numerous than ever. Since the inception of stork parks, some never leave, even during the winter months. This seems to please the Alsatian population. One must realize that storks are the symbol of happiness and fidelity. As everyone knows, it is the stork which brings babies wrapped in bundles, firmly held in their beaks. Alsatian custom says that when a child wanted a younger brother or sister, he would place a piece of sugar on the window sill to attract the stork, in hopes that it would leave the precious bundle in exchange.

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