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Roman Strasbourg (Latin: Argentoratum, 1st century)

from 978-3-14-100790-9 from page 10 fig. 1
Diercke Karte Roman Strasbourg (Latin: Argentoratum, 1st century)
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Roman Strasbourg (Latin: Argentoratum, 1st century)
Strasbourg is known for its cathedral, which displays a predominantly Gothic face in its present form. Yet the city's history began much earlier. The traces of the oldest settlement are concentrated largely in the historical city centre on the Grande Île (Grand Island), which is encircled by two arms of the River Ill. The Old City was declared a World Cultural Heritage site in 1988.

Roman times
Strasbourg's roots can be traced to the year 12 BC, when the Roman General Nero Claudius Drusus established a military outpost called the Argentoratum. The importance of the site at the point where the Ill and the Rhine converge was later enhanced by a road built between Augsburg and Mainz. The orthogonal layout of streets was typical of Roman settlements and featured a main crossroads. This pattern is still recognizable today in the alignment of Rue du Dôme and the Rue des Hallebardes, which intersect north of the cathedral.
The military camp and the civilian settlements that came later could no longer be maintained after the fall of the Limes in the 4th century and were abandoned in the 5th century. Most of the ruins from the period of Roman settlement were not discovered until after the Second World War. These include the remnants of a temple and a theatre.

The medieval city
The medieval city of Strasbourg developed from settlements founded by the Alemanni and the Franks. The city developed on terrain that had been identified as excellent building land long before: the island in the River Ill. Strasbourg was incorporated into the Frankish Empire as Strateburgum in 496. In the 9th century, it became part of the emerging medieval German Empire.
Until 1200, the development was limited to the island, which was covered with a grid of narrow streets and lanes. The largest open space is identifiable in the north-western quadrant of the map – the Place Kléber, which still plays an important role in the life of the city today. Equally important were the churches, for Strasbourg had already become the seat of the Bishopric of Strasbourg in the 4th century. The most striking example of church architecture is the cathedral. Construction began at the site of several earlier structures in 1176 and was not completed until 1439.
Strasbourg acquired the title of Free Imperial City in the 14th century. The economy flourished. This was also the period during which the original medieval city was expanded. Building had already begun in the South in 1228; the first new buildings in the North-west were erected in 1374 and in the South-west in 1387. The Rhine Bridge was built a year later.

Fortifications built in the 16th and 17th centuries
Following the invention of the printing press – Johannes Gutenberg worked in Strasbourg for ten years – the city developed into an important cultural centre of inter-regional stature in the 15th century. Humanists discovered Strasbourg and the Reformation was introduced.

The Thirty Years' War (1618–48) had a disastrous impact on Strasbourg. Much of Alsace was laid to waste and the region was annexed by France after the war. While religious freedom was maintained, the Catholic Church regained a significant degree of influence. The city had not grown larger since the medieval expansion phase.
The city paid dearly for its strategic position on the border between the two major powers of France and Prussia. It was encircled with modern fortifications. Wherever feasible, the medieval city wall was integrated into the new system of walls. A fortification system built toward the end of the 16th century according to plans drafted by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the most outstanding military architect of his era, was redesigned and reinforced. This system also included the fortress city of Kehl on the opposite bank of the Rhine, which had long been a bridgehead for Strasbourg.

Present-day Strasbourg
Alsace and Strasbourg have been the object of rival claims by France and Germany up until the very recent past and have experienced multiple changes of possession. Yet the city plays an important role as a mediator between the two nations and cultures. Thus it is no coincidence that important European institutions and organs of the European Union (EU) are now located there. They are shown on the map in the area north-west of the Old City: the European Parliament, the Council of Europe (which is not affiliated with the EU) and the European Court of Human Rights.
D. Falk; Ü: J. Southard


Keywords: EU European Union fortification France medieval city roman city Romans urban genesis Vauban

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