Strasbourg is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in northeastern France, with 702,412 inhabitants in the metropolitan area in 2007. Located close to the border with Germany, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin département.
Strasbourg is the seat of several European institutions such as the Council of Europe with its European Court of Human Rights, its European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and its European Audiovisual Observatory, the Eurocorps as well as the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman of the European Union. Strasbourg is an important center of manufacturing and engineering, as well as of road, rail, and river communications. The port of Strasbourg is the second largest on the Rhine after Duisburg, Germany. The city is the seat of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine.
Strasbourg's historic center, the Grand Island, was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city center. Strasbourg is beautifully fused into the Franco-German culture (Alemannic), and is regarded as the bridge of unity between modern France and Germany.
At the site of Strasbourg, the Romans established a military outpost and named it Argentoratum. (Hence the town is commonly called Argentina in medieval Latin.) It belonged to the Germania Superior Roman province. The name was first mentioned in the year 12 BC; the city celebrated its 2,000th birthday of continuous settlement in 1988. From the 4th century, Strasbourg was the seat of the Archbishopric of Strasbourg.
The Alemanni fought a Battle of Argentoratum against Rome in 357. They were defeated by Julian, later Emperor of Rome, and their king Chonodomarius was taken prisoner. On January 2, 366 the Alemanni crossed the frozen Rhine in large numbers, to invade the Roman Empire. Early in the 5th century the Alemanni appear to have crossed the Rhine, conquered, and then settled what is today Alsace and a large part of Switzerland.
The town was occupied successively in the 5th century by Alemanni, Huns, and Franks. In the 9th century it was commonly known as Strazburg in the local language, as documented in 842 by the Oaths of Strasbourg. This trilingual text is considered to contain, besides Latin and Old High German, also the oldest written variety of Gallo-Romance clearly distinct from Latin, the ancestor of Old French. The town was also called Stratisburgum or Strateburgus in Latin, Strossburi in Alsatian and Straßburg in Standard German, and then Strasbourg by the French.
A major commercial center, the town came under control of the Holy Roman Empire in 923, through the homage paid by the Duke of Lorraine to German King Henry I. The early history of Strasbourg consists of a long conflict between its bishop and its citizens. The citizens emerged victorious after the Battle of Oberhausbergen in 1262, when King Philip of Swabia granted the city the status of an Imperial Free City.
Around 1200, Gottfried von Straßburg wrote the Middle High German courtly romance Tristan, which is regarded, alongside Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and the Nibelungenlied, as one of great narrative masterpieces of the German Middle Ages.
A revolution in 1332 resulted in a broad-based city government with participation of the guilds, and Strasbourg declared itself a free republic. The murderous bubonic plague of 1348 was followed on February 14, 1349 by one of the first and worst pogroms in pre-modern history: several hundred Jews were publicly burnt to death and the rest of them expelled of the city. Until the end of the 18th century, Jews were forbidden to remain in town after 10 pm. The time to leave the city was signaled by a municipal herald blowing the Grüselhorn; a high-pitched Cathedral bell still rings today. A special tax, the Pflastergeld ("pavement money") was furthermore to be paid for any horse that a Jew would ride or bring into the city while allowed to.
Strasbourg Cathedral which began undergoing construction in the 12th century, was completed in 1439 (though only the north tower was built) and became the World's Tallest Building, surpassing the Great Pyramid of Giza. In the 1520s during the Protestant Reformation, the city embraced the religious teachings of Martin Luther, whose adherents established a university (the Gymnasium, headed by Johannes Sturm) in the following century. The city first followed the Tetrapolitan Confession, and then the Augsburg Confession. Protestant iconoclasm caused much destruction to churches and cloisters. Strasbourg was a center of humanist scholarship and early book-printing in the Holy Roman Empire and its intellectual and political influence contributed much to the establishment of Protestantism as an accepted denomination in the southwest of Germany. Together with four other free cities, Strasbourg presented the confessio tetrapolitana as its Protestant book of faith at the Imperial Diet of Augsburg in 1530, where the slightly different Augsburg Confession was also handed over to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
After the reform of the Imperial constitution in the early 16th century and the establishment of "Imperial Circles," Strasbourg was part of the "Upper Rhenish Circle," a corporation of Imperial estates in the southwest of Holy Roman Empire, mainly responsible for maintaining troops, supervising coining, and ensuring public security.
After the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, who had moved from Mainz to Strasbourg, the first modern newspaper was published in Strasbourg in 1605, when Johann Carolus received the permission by the City of Strasbourg to print and distribute a weekly journal written in German by reporters from several central European cities.
The Free City of Strasbourg remained neutral during the Thirty Years' War. In September 1681 it was seized by King Louis XIV of France, whose unprovoked annexation was recognized by the Treaty of Ryswick (1697). The official policy of religious intolerance which drove many Protestants from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1598) by the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685) was not applied in Strasbourg and in Alsace. Strasbourg Cathedral, however, was handed over from the Lutherans to the Catholics. The German Lutheran university persisted until the French Revolution. Famous students were Goethe and Herder.
During a dinner in Strasbourg organized by Mayor Frédéric de Dietrich on April 25, 1792, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle composed "La Marseillaise." However, Strasbourg's status as a free city was revoked by the French Revolution. Fanatical Jacobins (most notoriously Eulogius Schneider) ruled the city with an iron hand before being overthrown after the downfall of Maximilien Robespierre. During their reign, many churches and cloisters were either destroyed or severely damaged. The cathedral lost hundreds of its statues (later replaced by copies in the 19th century) and in 1794, there was talk of tearing its spire down, on the grounds that it hurt the principle of equality. The tower was saved, however, when citizens of Strasbourg proposed to crown it with a giant phrygian cap.
With the growth of industry and commerce, the city's population tripled in the 19th century to 150,000. During the Franco-Prussian War and the Siege of Strasbourg, the city was heavily bombarded by the Prussian army. On August 24, 1870, the Museum of Fine Arts was destroyed by fire, as was the Municipal Library housed in the Gothic former Dominican Church, with its unique collection of medieval manuscripts (most famously the Hortus deliciarum), rare Renaissance books and Roman artifacts. In 1871 after the war's end, the city was annexed to the newly-established German Empire as part of the Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen (via the Treaty of Frankfurt) without a plebiscite. As part of Imperial Germany, Strasbourg was rebuilt and developed on a grand and representative scale (the Neue Stadt, or "new city") and included a new museum and a new library. The University of Strasbourg, founded in 1567 and suppressed during the French Revolution as a stronghold of German sentiment, was reopened in 1872. A belt of massive fortifications was established around the city, most of which still stand today: Fort Roon (now Desaix) and Podbielski (now Ducrot) in Mundolsheim, Fort von Moltke (now Rapp) in Reichstett, Fort Bismarck (now Kléber) in Wolfisheim, Fort Kronprinz (now Foch) in Niederhausbergen, and Fort Grossherzog von Baden (now Frère) in Oberhausbergen. Those forts subsequently served the French army, and were used as POW-camps in 1918 and 1945.
Following the defeat of Germany in World War I, the city was restored to France; city residents were again not offered a plebiscite.
Having been influenced by Germanic culture since the Frankish Realm, Strasbourg remained largely Alsatian-speaking well into the 20th century, and Germany continued to covet it under Nazi rule. Following the Fall of France in 1940 during World War II, the city was annexed by Nazi Germany. As one of the first official acts, the new rulers burnt and razed the main synagogue that had been a major architectural landmark and one of the largest in Europe since its completion in 1897. After the war, Strasbourg was returned to France, and while the First World War did not notably damage the city, Anglo-American bombers caused extensive destruction in 1944 in raids of which at least one was allegedly carried out by mistake. On November 22, 1944, the city was officially liberated by General Leclerc, although he entered the city the next day; a major street now commemorates the day of liberation. An unrelated tragedy that added, however, to the wartime losses, was the 1947 fire that destroyed a valuable part of the collection of the new Museum of Fine Arts.
In 1920, Strasbourg became the seat of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine, previously located in Mannheim, one of the very first European institutions. In 1949, the city was chosen to be the seat of the Council of Europe with its European Court of Human Rights and European Pharmacopoeia. Since 1952, Strasbourg has been the official seat of the European Parliament, although only plenary sessions are held in Strasbourg each month, while all other business is being conducted in Brussels and Luxembourg. Those sessions take place in the Immeuble Louise Weiss, inaugurated in 1999, which houses the largest parliamentary assembly room in Europe and of any democratic institution in the world. Before that, the EP sessions had to take place in the main Council of Europe building, the Palace of Europe, whose unusual inner architecture had become a familiar sight to European TV audiences. In 1992, Strasbourg became the seat of the Franco-German TV channel and movie-production society Arte.
In 2000, an Islamist plot to blow up the cathedral was prevented by German authorities. On July 6, 2001, during an open-air concert in the Parc de Pourtalès, a single falling Platanus caused one of the worst disasters of its kind in history, killing thirteen people and injuring 97. On March 27, 2007, the city was found guilty of neglect over the accident and fined € 150,000.
In 2006, after a long and careful restoration, the inner decoration of the Aubette, made in the 1920s by Hans Arp, Theo van Doesburg, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp and destroyed in the 1930s, was made accessible to the public again. The work of the three artists had been called "the Sistine Chapel of abstract art."