Strasbourg France was perhaps our favorite port of call on our Rhine River cruise with AmaWaterways. That was, in part, because I remember passing through here on a train when I was 14 years old and on my first trip to Europe. But really Strasbourg is simply magic.
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The Strasbourg Cathedral
As the capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg is celebrated for many reasons — storks that live in the chimneys of many homes, gingerbread cookies, and a church where Mozart once played.
But if you only have time to do one thing, visit the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral, simply known as the Strasbourg Cathedral.
History of the Strasbourg Cathedral
There’s been a house of worship of some sort on this spot since before the birth of Jesus Christ. Construction began on this particular version in the 11th century and was completed in 1439, almost 50 years before Columbus set sail for the Americas.
Of course, any European cathedral worthy of a Wikipedia entry is decked out with some serious stained glass windows. The Strasbourg Cathedral scores high marks as well. These are, in large part, original to the structure, despite having survived two world wars. During WWII, the Nazis stole the windows in tact and hid them in a salt mine, along with much of Europe’s beautiful art.
But have you read the book or seen the movie The Monuments Men with George Clooney, Matt Damon and team? Yep, the real Monuments Men recovered Strasbourg’s beautiful windows and returned them to their rightful place where millions have since been inspired by their message.
The Strasbourg Cathedral is well-known for an astronomical clock that dates to the 1840s and keeps nearly perfect time. At the top of each hour, little figurines appear and dance to the strike of each hour.
We had tickets for noon, so at 11:45 a.m. we stood in a line that we thought would take us to the appropriate viewing spot. Once we entered the door, we found ourselves in a narrow entry that channeled us up a spiral staircase. We were just a few rounds up when we began questioning our path. But by then, we were committed and going down a 500 year old, narrow spiral staircase against the flow of traffic is never a good idea.
Climbing to the Top of the Strasbourg Cathedral
So we kept climbing, huffing and puffing considerably, until we were on the roof of the cathedral and all of Strasbourg spread out before us with the Vosges mountains and Black Forest visible in the distance.
A few centuries ago, the Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest building in the world and it is now the sixth tallest church in the world. We were standing right here on the roof.
The spire reaches to 466 feet (142 meters) and this is how it looked from our unexpected vantage point. I’m going to say we climbed maybe 300 feet in that spiral staircase. Just an estimate. There were maybe a dozen of us up there looking around.
So we missed the noon performance of the famous astronomical clock. But we got to see other angles and images of the church that not nearly as many visitors see on a given day.
The next time we’re in Strasbourg, we’ll make sure we’re standing in the right line at the right time. But until then, we’ll take the advice inappropriately (but funny nonetheless) scrawled on the staircase wall by another English speaking traveler who may or may not have accidentally stood in the wrong line as we did. We’ll just keep climbing.