Situated smack dab on the French-German border Strasbourg, population
280,000, must have felt like a ping-pong ball due to the number
of times (over many centuries) that it changed hands between
the two long-time rivals. There's a definite German influence
visible here especially in the historic old town area with its
narrow passageways, baroque sandstone buildings and half-timbered
houses. How cool is the medieval old town? Back in 1988 UNESCO
(basically the United Nation's historic preservation arm) listed
the area as a World Heritage site, the first time an entire city
center was bestowed with this designation.
The river Ill meanders through
the city where it splits up into a number of canals
and cascades through a very popular touristy area of the old
town called "Petite-France". Now, why would the French
bother to call an area in their own country "Petite-France"
or little France? It turns out the French didn't. The name was
conferred by the former German inhabitants not for the area's
architecture but, because of the numerous prostitutes working
there in the Middle Ages. Prostitution used to be known in Germany
as "the French business". Plus, syphilis often contacted
in that specific area was then known as Franzosenkrankheit ("French
disease"). Wow, nastiness between the two countries was
in full swing back in the Middle Ages!
One can't help but gawk at the magnificent (and gigantic) Gothic-style
Strasbourg Cathedral in the city
center. It's the sixth tallest church
in the world and, between 1647-1847 was the world's tallest building.
My main purpose for visiting Strasbourg was Vauban
Dam (plus of course to check out the local pastry shop scene).
Over the years Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban visited Strasbourg
quite a few times to check on its fortifications. However, the
dam (built between 1686-1700) wasn't built by Vauban but, by
fellow military engineer & compatriot Jacques Tarade using
Built only about a hundred yards from the Petite-France area
of the city, the dam was/is quite ingenious. As you can see in
the pictures there are a total of 13 arches going across the
dam. In the event of an attack sluice gates can drop from the
arches to form a dam, completely flooding the southern approach
to the city. Notice the enclosed corridor crossing the dam. Well,
to cross through the fortified corridor one has to deal with
not one, not two but, three drawbridges located inside the corridor
to reach the other side. The grassy area atop the corridor has
been made into a public viewing area which affords tourists excellent
photo opportunities of the medieval
towers guarding the old town.