Today’s post will cover Strasbourg’s Grand Island and our visit there a couple of weeks ago. Strasbourg is a beautiful city, and I’m happy to have had the chance to visit and see this city. This is one of the best parts of being an expat in the Czech Republic—taking opportunities to travel to other places. You can travel from Prague to most of Europe at a reasonable cost. Prague offers many different ways to travel: by plane, train, coach buses, rental car and even by bike. Living in the heart of Europe has given me some wonderful opportunities to see and do things I never would have done. Strasbourg was another great travel opportunity, and I’m happy to have seen it.
The most ancient part of Strasbourg sits on the Grand Island, in the center of Strasbourg. This area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and was once a Roman military outpost called Argentoratum. The first mention of Aregentoratum is in 12 BC. The center of Argentoratum was actually where the Notre Dame Cathedral now sits. This spot was once a Roman sanctuary, or holy place. After the Roman occupation, the area was occupied, in turn, by the Alemanni, Huns and Franks.
During our exploration of the Grand Island, Jiri and I didn’t mange to find any Roman ruins or other artifacts, but we did find houses and buildings very well preserved from Medieval times. Strasbourg did suffer some damage from Allied bombing during WWII, however many old, old buildings still exist. I was surprised at how well the old centrum of Strasbourg has been preserved. The Grand Island was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. It is one of the best preserved cities I’ve seen in Europe (aside from Prague), even after being bombed during WWII.
We found a commemoration to WWII American soldiers in Notre Dame Cathedral—you can see it in the slide above. It was a nice surprise to see this in the church. The other picture is of the Pillar of Angels, a pillar standing near the astrological clock in the church. There is a legend about this pillar. It is said two, rival architects were arguing over the pillar. One said the pillar was not enough support to hold up the vaulted ceiling. The second architect said the pillar would be strong enough. The second architect won the job, and built the Pillar of angels. Sure enough, the pillar is strong enough. The first architect still lingers somewhere near the pillar. He said he would stay watching the pillar to see when it would fall. This first architect still watches the Pillar of angels, but now he has turned to stone. He is a sculpture by a banister in an alcove overlooking the pillar. I didn't see him, but read about this story. The moral of this tale is faith in one's work, and possibly the angels are indeed reinforcing the pillar to keep it standing. The last picture is of old graffiti. This is real, and is from the 1600s. There was even older graffiti, but the years have made it hard to see, and it wouldn’t have shown up well in a photo. Amazing to see century's old graffiti in Notre Dame.
The next pictures are from the rest of Strasbourg’s center. As you can see from the pictures, Strasbourg is preserved very beautifully. Many of the houses are still lived in today. I’ve lived here for almost five years, but this fact is still amazing. Houses built several hundred years ago are still being used. The only buildings this old back home are the Pueblos in Taos, and these have been continuously lived in for over a thousand years. I seem to have some affinity for medieval houses. They especially draw me--why, I don't know. I never tire of seeing them.
The Grand Island is a busy place filled with many different types of shops—from butchers and patisseries, to clothing and shoe shops. There is a plethora of restaurants. As you can see from the pictures, we even found a couple of Mexican places. Mexican and Chinese food seem to be in most places in the world, along with McDonalds and KFC. We didn’t eat out too much, but I did some cooking in our kitchenette at the hotel. Shopping for produce was a wonderful experience. The closest grocery store, Simply Market (or something like that), had the most beautiful fruits and vegetables I’ve seen in a long time. Our stores, in Prague, are not known for excellent produce. However, you can find high-quality produce at the Farmer’s Markets around town. To see such fresh produce made me hungry. The dairy products were also great—butter and cheese. They actually have salted butter there! We don’t have that here, so it was a nice touch to enjoy in Strasbourg. Jiri was also able to enjoy fresh bread. The smell of that made my mouth water! I’m allergic to gluten, so I had to bypass that treat. But Jiri immensely enjoyed this French treat.
Strasbourg’s Grand Island also offers many museums. We weren’t able to visit those as my allergies were not cooperating, but if you visit Strasbourg, be sure to look up their museums. You won’t be disappointed.
Well, that’s all for now. My next post will be about the “new” part of Strasbourg, and some of the sites there.
Have a great day!
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Photo credit: Sher Vacik
(c) 2011 by Sher Vacik