|Strasbourg, the modern capital of Europe, also
boasts a rich and varied past that has made an indelible mark on the local
culture and architecture. People in the avant-garde Strasbourg of today
may get around using an economical, attractive and
environmentally-friendly light rail system; they may live in the city of
the Conseil de l'Europe and the Palais des Droits de l'Homme (Palace of
Human Rights); but they are also surrounded at all times by a local
history that begins in Antiquity and has ever since been shaped by the
city's position at the crossroads of Europe.
Strasbourg was born in the year 12 B.C., and grew out of both the Roman military camp Argentoratum and Strateburgum, the neighbouring fishing and hunting village from which the city takes its name. This Strateburgum, "City of Roads," was truly the crossroads of Europe, a traveller's stopover but also the frequent target of invaders from the east. Accordingly, historic Strasbourg is where the first known text in (Old) French'the famous Serment de Strasbourg, pronounced in 842 by Louis le Débonnaire's two sons and their men, was written.
Much later, when Strasbourg had become a free Imperial city, it was the scene of numerous important scientific, religious, and artistic events. The current Place Gutenberg celebrates the inventor of movable type, who developed his invention right here before taking it to Mayence. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Strasbourg was a major stage for Calvin's Reformation. In 1725, Louis XV was married to Marie Leszgynska in the Cathédrale Notre Dame, which was built between 1015 and 1365. The rich artistic history of Strasbourg includes concerts by Mozart and Goethe's long stay here; around the same time, many Parisian-influenced hôtels particuliers (private mansions) were built in central Strasbourg, as was the monumental Palais Rohan .
The city has always been torn between Germany and France. Even today, Strasbourg is subject to the double influence, by turns beneficial and oppressive, of the two giants on whose border it lies. Ironically, it is here that the French national anthem got its start: on April 24, 1792, during a farewell dinner honoring volunteers in the Rhine army, mayor Frédéric de Dietrich asked Rouget de Lisle to compose a song to rally the troops; the result was the "Marseillaise". Nevertheless, this border town has often fallen under German control. Among the monuments of Strasbourg are some landmarks in German Neoclassicism, including the Palais du Rhin (Palace of the Rhine), the Théâtre National de Strasbourg (Strasbourg National Theatre), and the Bibliothèque Nationale Universitaire (National University Library), all situated near the Place de la République. These important edifices were all damaged in the World Wars, but in the years since the buildings, and Germano-Alsatian relations as well, have been fully restored.
Today Strasbourg is at the centre of European politics as it shares with Luxembourg and Brussels the privilege of hosting major European Union institutions. The European Council, which was created on May 5, 1949 and which is made up of representatives from 41 member nations, sits in session in a contemporary complex next to the Parc de l'Orangerie.
A city of importance in all eras, Strasbourg impresses today by the harmonic coexistence of its vibrant modernism and its historical heritage. Roman, Germanic, and French cultures have made their marks here, and throughout the city's history all have contributed to the specificity that is Alsatian culture.