The newest addition to the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites is located in Strasbourg, France, but was built on German soil. What?! Yes, that’s one of those things that makes Strasbourg such a thrilling place to visit.
The oldest part of Strasbourg in the GrandÎle, with its charming cobbled stones, covered bridges and half-timbered homes, has been a UNESCO site since 1988, and couldn’t be more picturesque. Getting lost in Petite France with its narrow streets seems as if you had ripped a page right out of a fairy tale. When you venture just a little bit north from this medieval center, the landscape changes dramatically onto a very different part of Strasbourg: the Neudstadt, or ‘new city’. When Strasbourg changed over under German rule after the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, Germany needed to make a grand statement to showcase their superiority of engineering and design.
The city was growing. From 80,000 habitants in 1870, it more than doubled its population at 180,000 in 1915. So in contrast to the cramped quarters of the historic old town, Strasbourg expanded northeast with carefully planned wide avenues, grand homes and imposing public buildings. They also incorporated huge advancements like running water, sanitation and gas on every floor, meaning that anybody who aspired to be somebody just had to have an address here.
Over the years, money kept flowing in and the architecture reflects the waves of fashion, and a new urban landscape emerged, including some prime examples of beautiful Art Nouveau aesthetics.
A great way to see this transition clearly is to take the boat tour that brings you from Petite France and the oldest part of the city, up the river through the Neudstadt, all the way to the contemporary European district. It’s as if every bridge and façade is a page in the story of Strasbourg.
Another great way to see the Neustadt is to grab a rental bike from the easy-to-use Vélhop bikeshare system and explore at leisure. Did you know that Strasbourg is the most cycle-friendly city in France?
The recognition by UNESCO of the Neudstadt as an extension to the existing Strasbourg World Heritage site on July 9th 2017 – acknowledged for its exceptional universal value – is not just a recognition of its worth as a historic and architectural landmark, but a decisive symbol of reconciliation with the tumultuous Franco-American history and a nod to the European dimension of Strasbourg.
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