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Architecture

Alsace cultivates a wealthy and varied scenery with its religious, military, rural and traditional, Renaissance and Classical architectures ... Discover the most beautiful places to visit in Alsace!

Religious architecture

Romanesque art

Everywhere, Alsacian Romanesque churches adopted the Latin cross, that is to say that the elongated nave represents the longest arm of the cross and the transept forms the small arm. A tower often surmounts the crossing as in Guebwiller or Sélestat. Romanesque art is characterised by strong wall masses and simple shapes in the scene. The golden age of this art was in the 12th century, a period in which the fortified bell towers were built. Little by little, the central tower disappeared and was replaced by two side towers as in Murbach. As of the late 12th century, buildings were adorned with tympanum gates and adopt a polygonal choir. The decorative elements are mainly located on the portals and capitals of the columns.

Gothic art

It emerged in Alsace around 1230, during the construction of the Southern transept of the Strasbourg Notre Dame Cathedral. It quickly imposed thanks to the development of towns. Not long after, the Rayonnant Gothic emerged, giving priority to bright buildings and verticality. Colmar and the Colmar Collegiate Church and Wissembourg Abbey-Church are prime examples of Gothic art. Around 1300, some buildings were stripped of any superfluous decoration and thus returned to a simple and austere architecture. This is the case, for example, of the Saint Thomas Church in Strasbourg. Finally, the 15th century saw the emergence of the Flamboyant Gothic, whose main feature is the integration of flame shaped elements. The Saint Thiébaut Collegiate Church in Thann and the top of the Strasbourg Cathedral are fully in line with this trend.

 

Military architecture

Architectural diversity thanks to a turbulent history

From the Roman period onwards, many military fortifications have been built in and around Alsace. This impressive architectural diversity is closely linked to the turbulent history of our region, which occupies a central position within Europe. It also reflects the fragmentary power structure of the German Holy Roman Empire which saw landowners attempting to assert their supremacy over their neighbours with the help of massive fortified structures. Although mostly destroyed during the 17th century, many remains from the castles and the fortified towns, churches and cemeteries are today dotted across the Alsatian landscape. Most of these fortifications can be found in areas of great strategic importance, overlooking the Alsatian plain or protecting access to the valleys of the Vosges. Following the restoration work launched during the 20th century by Emperor Wilhelm II, the Haut-Koenigsbourg castle is without a doubt one of the most impressive military structures in the area. Also, be sure not to miss the Fleckenstein, the most frequently visited unrestored castle in Alsace.

More recently…

Between 1679 and 1702, Vauban set about fortifying Alsace's borders. In 1679, Huningue and Sélestat formed the first stage of this defensive line. This was followed by the fortress of Strasbourg in 1681, the towns of Belfort and Fort-Louis in 1686, and subsequently Landau and Neuf-Brisach in 1698. Neuf-Brisach is certainly one of the best preserved fortified Alsatian towns and also one of the most majestic in the region. Between 1875 and 1914, the Germans erected a new 11 km line of fortifications protected by 15 forts around Strasbourg. Finally, between 1927 and 1935, the 200 km Maginot Line was built, of which a number of sites can still be seen today, including those at Four-à-Chaux near Lembach, the Schoenenbourg fort and the Esch casemate in Hatten.

 

Rural accommodation

The farms on the Alsatian plain

The plain farms generally comprise separate buildings laid out around a huge courtyard. This yard may be enclosed by a porch as seen at the Kochersberg, or may feature an open layout. In the north and south of the Alsatian plains, farms are often of a more modest size, comprising a main dwelling which includes the home, barn and stable. This is the case with the farms found in the Outre Forêt or Sundgau areas. Despite these differences in style, which are related to local traditions, living conditions and lifestyles, a number of key aspects are common to Alsatian accommodation as a whole. As an example, the timber-framed construction method featuring exposed beams can be admired in all of the region's farms.

Winegrowers' houses

Some excellent examples of this type of building can be admired at Mittelbergheim, Andlau, Obernai, Hunawihr, Kaysersberg or Ribeauvillé. The winegrowers' houses and their courtyards are usually very cramped. Typically they include several floors and a half-timbered structure, the number of floors varying according to the affluence of the family. Stone-built and often half buried, the ground floor is used entirely as a wine cellar and press room.

Homes in the mountains and valleys

The architecture of the mountain valleys differs substantially from that found on the plains, with the influence of the neighbouring Vosges range being clearly visible. As a result, the stone-built mountain farms usually comprise a single block including the main dwelling, the barn and the stable, with small rooms being easier to heat.

 

The Renaissance and classical period architecture

The Renaissance

From the 13th century onwards, the whole of the Rhineland area witnessed the rapid growth of merchant towns. A large number of public buildings were erected as a result, with the "golden age" of this movement being the 16th century. The towns of Alsace took on a whole new identity thanks to the elaborately decorated arsenals, halls and town halls. The sumptuous mansions surrounding these buildings quickly followed this trend, particularly in Colmar, Strasbourg and Riquewihr. Even the smaller towns were affected by this growth, with the city halls of the towns of Obernai, Rouffach, Molsheim, Kaysersberg and Guebwiller being built during this period. The Palais du Neubau in Strasbourg, the Palais de la Régence in Ensisheim, the Palais de la Metzig in Molsheim and the Maison des Têtes in Colmar offer outstanding examples of the Renaissance style. The roofs are often pointed, partly hidden by finely worked gables, featuring volutes combined with pinnacle turrets or tiered designs. Most of the buildings dating from this period include polygonal staircase turrets in addition to oriel windows (glazed canopies providing a view across the street and natural daylight for the rooms). Carved or painted timber framing, cast iron signs and sculptures were all extra touches often used to enhance the overall effect.

The classical period

Very much in fashion in Paris, classicism also had a major influence on Alsatian architecture from the 18th century onwards. Classical architecture is characterised by a rational study of the styles inherited from antiquity, while at the same time seeking to achieve symmetrical balance.

The Rohan Palaces in Strasbourg and Saverne, the Palais du Conseil Souverain in Colmar and the Hôpital Civil (Civil Hospital) in Strasbourg are among the best examples of classicism in Alsace.