Saturday, September 29, 2012


The dominant building of the Strasbourg skyline is the Strasbourg Cathedral, built between 1176 and 1439.  At 466 feet tall, it was the tallest building in the world until 1874.  Now it is the sixth tallest church in the world, but it is the tallest building completed in the Middle Ages that is still standing.

It is very difficult to get a decent picture of it because of how surrounding buildings have crept ever closer to its walls through the centuries:

An aerial view from the internet shows what I mean:
The magnificent High Gothic front of the cathedral has thousands of intricate figures carved into its pink sandstone facade:

The interior is equally dramatic, rising over three stories and with an unusual 14th century pipe organ suspended high up on one wall between the stained glass windows:
The richly ornamented "stone lace" pulpit was carved in the 15th century.

The cathedral contains a famous astronomical clock.  It's not quite as spectacular as the one we saw in Prague, but it has its own charm.  It was completed in 1571 by a team of sculptors, painters, mathematicians, and watchmakers.  It ticked regularly along until one day in 1788 when it suddenly stopped.  After studying it for years, a self-taught Alsatian clockmaker was able to rebuild the mechanism.  It was restarted in 1842 and has ticked on since then.
The signs of the zodiac:
The clock:
The Pillar of Angels, with its fourteen slender figures, stands in one of the transepts. While seemingly quite delicate, it actually supports the archway:

The cathedral has more than 4,600 panels of stained glass windows that date back to the 12th to 14th centuries.  There are three horizontal levels of windows, a rather unusual configuration that allows for more light than is typical for a Gothic interior. The fragile windows were removed during World War II and stored in 74 crates in a salt mine. That must have been one giant jigsaw puzzle!

The very unique rose window, 45 feet in diameter, does not depict a religious scene.  Instead, it shows sheaves of wheat that indicate the city's economic power.  I remember Mom, who knew a surprising amount about religious architecture, telling us as we traveled together through Germany that some cathedrals were "built for God" and some were "built for power." I wonder if the Strasbourg Cathedral was some of both.  Because of the lighting, I just couldn't get a good picture of the rose window, so I borrowed these from Wikipedia:
The exterior view
The interior view
We were really on a spire-climbing kick on this trip.  Whenever we had the opportunity, we climbed.  I think it is one of the things that saved me from a premature Death-Caused-By-Gelato.  The Strasbourg Cathedral has a mere 326 steps.  (We would be climbing an even taller spire a few days later.)
There was a nice resting area about mid-way up that gave us a chance to escape the claustrophic stairwell.
We continued up to the viewing deck, which unfortunately was some distance below the top of the spire itself:
Note the spire rising behind us.
Views of the city could almost be from one or two centuries ago:
There was some really interesting graffiti on this level: names and dates carved into the soft sandstone in the 18th and 19th centuries:

We had a great view of the buttresses and of a cute little gargoyle or two:

Back down on street level, we heard the Strasbourg Cathedral bells ring for the second time.  We had also heard them when we were on the viewing platform up above.  I never get tired of what Edgar Allen Poe called "tintinnabulations":

The famous German writer Goethe described this cathedral as "a sublimely towering, wide-spread tree of God," and French author Victor Hugo wrote that "the true triumph of this Cathedral is the spire. It is a veritable tiara of stone with its crown and its cross. It is a gigantic and delicate marvel."  I can't imagine what this building must have looked like to 15th century Europeans.  Even today, it can still be seen from miles away.

Next: Moving on . . . to Utah!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


As we traveled down the Rhine (It's still hard to think of going north as going "down," but the Rhine flows north), our next stop was Strasbourg, France.  Like Colmar, it is part of the Alsace region of France that ping-ponged between France and Germany so many times.  In many ways, Strasbourg is very much like Colmar in appearance and ambiance, and like Colmar, Strasbourg has a thing for storks.  Our bus drove down the Boulevard de l'Orangerie, a street lined on both sides with trees that are specially trimmed to support platforms for stork nests.
Our bus driver didn't stop to let us take pictures, I am assuming in deference to the privacy of these nesting birds, so I borrowed this photo from here.
However, Strasbourg is a much larger, more cosmopolitan city than Colmar. This row of European flags is in front of the European Parliament, of which Strasbourg is the seat.  At 754 members, it is the second largest parliament in the world, second only to the Parliament of India.
I have no idea what this sculpture represents, but I love the contrast of the rough-hewn female figures and the flat male silhouettes:
Yep. Strasbourg has plenty of personality:

Strasbourg is the second most important river port in France, second only to Paris.  In fact, Strasbourg is actually attached to Paris via a series of romantic canals:

There are plenty of beautiful and very old half-timbered gingerbread houses that made us feel like we were walking through a fairytale.

Yes, that date says 1663:

And the bakeries--ah, the bakeries.  Nothing quite compares with the drool-inducing sights, aromas, and tastes of French pastries:

Spending time at the pastry shop is just not that fun for poor Vegan Bob.  Of course, it's not pastries that tempt him.  In this picture, I think he is looking at a window full of foie gras, a Strasbourg specialty.

How many cities do you know that have a wonderful old carousel right in the middle of the town square? Strasbourg does.
(For a fun panoramic view of the carousel and square, go here.)

It is right next to this statue of Johannes Gutenberg, who lived in Strasbourg for ten years, during which time he perfected his process of movable type.  Although he printed the first Bible (in Latin) in the city of Mainz, the first German Bible was later printed in Strasbourg.

"Let there be light":
My first reaction to this street sign was to look for the name "King."  I am such an American.

We had a terrific lunch at an outdoor cafe.
The French can make even a vegan salad a work of art:
My sauerkraut and fileted wurst was pretty spectacular too:
Even the bathroom door had that "French touch":
Bob and Stan rubbed the head of this statue for good luck:

Of course, no tour of a European city is complete without a tour of its churches. We visited two in Strasbourg.  The first was the Church of St. Thomas, the main Protestant church of the city:
Construction began in 1196 and was finished in 1521.

Only the rose window in the nave is original. The others were destroyed during religious purges or wars and were replaced with obviously more modern windows:

The cathedral is known for its 1741 Silbermann organ, which was played by Mozart in 1778 and by Albert Schweitzer in the early 20th century.  That's my photo on the left, which obviously doesn't capture the glory of the instrument, so I had to pilfer a picture from Wikipedia, as seen on the right:
The original keyboard has been replaced with a newer one, and the 1741 version is on the church floor, flanked by cutouts of the two famous men who played it:
Two of my sisters pose with Schweitzer, who was one of Mom's heroes:
As I mentioned in my first post about the family cruise, in which I listed our favorite parts of the trip, we were lucky enough to be in the church when the church organist, Professor Daniel Leininger, came to practice

A second organ in the church was built in 1905 after a design by Albert Schweitzer

The tomb of Maurice de Saxe, Marshal General of France, who died in 1750

The sarcophagus of Bishop Adelochus, the first bishop of Strasbourg:
A late Gothic fresco of Saint Michael, one of the largest of this type of fresco in Europe:
For a relatively unimposing church, St. Thomas's certainly contains a lot of treasures.

Coming Up: The OTHER Church, The Strasbourg Cathedral