Strasbourg, France



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 Vauban's plans.

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.