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Strasbourg Cathedral: A Visitor’s Guide to this UNESCO Site

If you’re traveling through France and want to see a beautifully preserved Gothic cathedral, look no further than the Notre Dame de Strasbourg.

This cathedral is one of the most important examples of French Gothic architecture from the middles ages in all of Europe. It has been expanded and restored many times since its construction in 1239, but it remains remarkably well-preserved.

The cathedral is located in the city of Strasbourg, which is located in the Alsace region in northeastern France. The city is near the German border and has a strong German influence.

The Notre Dame de Strasbourg (or Strasbourg Cathedral) is a must-see for anyone interested in French history or architecture.

About the Strasbourg Cathedral

Front of Strasbourg Cathedral
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Roman Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame de Strasbourg is regarded as one of Europe’s most beautiful gothic cathedrals. The present structure, which was built in the mid-12th Century, replaced a Roman temple that formerly stood on a tiny hill above the area’s marshy ground.

Strasbourg Cathedral Tour: History of this France Landmark

What to Look For Inside the Strasbourg Cathedral

Strasbourg Cathedral Inside

Strasbourg Cathedral is a stunning example of medieval architecture, and its white facade is truly a sight to behold. The color of the facade can shift based on the time of day or the amount of light, and the thousands of ornamented sculptures and figures that decorate the front are simply breathtaking.

The elongated portals filled with statues and religious scenes particularly lure the viewer in, and the 466-foot-tall tower is an impressive sight to see.

The octagonal north tower abutting the facade is also a beautiful detail, and it’s no wonder this monument is one of France‘s most iconic sites. Strasbourg Cathedral is definitely worth a visit, especially during the summer months when the city attracts the most visitors.

What is the address of Strasbourg Cathedral?

The address of Strasbourg Cathedral is Place de la Cathédrale, 67000 Strasbourg, France.

How can I get to Strasbourg Cathedral?

The best way to get to Strasbourg Cathedral is by public transportation. The cathedral is located just a few minutes walk from the Gare de Strasbourg train station and there are several tram and bus lines that stop nearby as well.

What are the opening hours of Strasbourg Cathedral?

The cathedral is open daily from 7:30 am to 7:00 pm (with extended hours in the summer).

Is there an admission fee to enter Strasbourg Cathedral?

No, there is no admission fee to enter the cathedral. However, there is a charge for certain events and activities, such as guided tours and climbing to the top of one of the towers.

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Best Tours of the Strasbourg Cathedral

Aerial View of Strasbourg Cathedral in France
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating cathedral and delicate marvel, consider taking a guided tour. Tours are available in English and French and last about an hour.

These are a few of the best Strasbourg Cathedral tours.

History of the Strasbourg Cathedral

View of Strasbourg Cathedral at Sunset
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

In 1015, Bishop Werner von Habsburg ordered the construction of a new cathedral to replace the existing one, which had been severely damaged by a fire. The new building, completed in 1049, was consecrated by Pope Leo IX.

The gothic architectural style had reached Alsace by the time the Cathedral was being repaired at the end of the 12th Century, (this time using red stones brought from the neighboring Vosges mountains), and the future Cathedral began to develop full gothic aesthetics.

The proposal for Alsace’s first Cathedral was given to craftsmen and stonemasons who had previously built on Chartres’ famed gothic Cathedral.

Bishop Werner von Habsburg Statue
Image by Perrin, L. A.

The Cathedral was first funded by the local prince bishop, but following his death, the municipal bourgeoisie took up the project. Due to a shortage of funds, residents also opted to contribute to the construction with individual donations.

Erwin von Steinbach was chosen as the organizer of the entire operation in 1284. He intended to offer money for the church’s construction, but because he was impoverished, he gave his horse instead!

Von Steinbach envisioned and created the Cathedral’s spectacular west front and major entrance. By the time he died, construction had advanced significantly; the rose window, as well as his towers, were nearing completion.

Ulrich von Ensingen, the architect of Ulm’s Cathedral, oversaw the construction of the octagonal base of the spire in 1399, which was finished by Johannes Hültz of Köln after his death and quickly became the icon of Strasbourg.

The Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest structure in the contemporary world for the following four centuries, thanks to the height of its 142m Tower. It was also distinctive in that it was one of the few gothic cathedrals to have only one Tower.

The Cathedral was converted into a Protestant church in 1521 as part of the Protestant Reformation. The Cathedral was returned to the Catholics in 1681 after Strasbourg’s absorption into France and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Cathedral is a significant entry to Gothic architectural history.

The façade of the southern crossbar is decorated with the remarkable Pillar of the Angels, added between 1230 and 1250. While preceding façades were almost likely designed before being built, Strasbourg features one of the oldest façades whose construction would be impossible without a drawing.

Strasbourg Cathedral Façade

The Prophets, the Wise and Mad Virgins, and the Virtues and Vices are shown in the church’s sculptures, which date from the 13th to the 15th Century and are positioned above the triple gateway of the Gothic façade.

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Strasbourg Cathedral Interior

Cathedrale Strasbourg Interior
Image by Guilhem Vellut used under Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Inside, there is a high Gothic-styled baptistery built by Dotzinger in 1453, a splendid pulpit embellished with several statuettes sculpted by Hans Hammer in 1485, the Mount of Olives in the northern transept by Nicolas Roeder in 1498, and a middle-age St. Lawrence’s doorway. Many other treasures can be found in the Strasbourg Cathedral.

Rose Window

Great Rose Window Cathedrale Strasbourg
Image by Txllxt TxllxT used under Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License

There are more than 4,600 stained-glass windows from the 12th, 13th, and 14th Centuries that make up this magnificent collection. The roundness of the earth, sun, and moon is reflected in the Great Rose Window masterwork, which represents God’s gaze over his creations.

The stained glass window was historically used to help folks who couldn’t read understand the bible stories preached from the pulpit.

In the south transept, which was erected between 1255 and 1320, there is a stone statue of Saint Louis which is in repose. He has slippers that are a symbol of humility because they recall his death. Above him, the vaulted ceiling depicts Christ’s ascension to heaven after being killed by crucifixion.

The pulpit of Our Lady of Strasbourg (also known as the Cathedral), built out of white sandstone in 1486 and carved with beautiful sculptures, is one of the Cathedral’s most amazing examples of Gothic architecture and fine art.

The North transept of the Cathedral, which was completed in the 1500s, also has an early Renaissance style and contains the aforementioned beautiful, complex, and detailed baptismal font by Jost Dotzinger. For preservation purposes, the majority of the Cathedral’s original statues have been relocated to a local museum.

Organ

Strasbourg Cathedral Organ
Image by Jim Woodward used under Creative Commons License

Also worthy of note is the Strasbourg Cathedral organ. The presence of an organ has been documented since 1260. The original organ was added in 1291 and 1327, before being rebuilt in 1489 – the earliest parts of the current organ casing date from 1385. The bird’s nest was constructed at about the same time.

It’s hung from the wall by a massive vertical oak beam that leads down to Samson’s statue. Other sculptured sights here include the legendary Rohraffe (or weeping monkey) and the city herald standing on either side of the organ, and the lion beneath it all of which have moving parts.

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Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock
Image by Tangopaso

Now the thing that many visitors love the most is the Strasbourg Astronomical Clock. It was designed by a group of painters, sculptors, watchmakers, and mathematicians and dates from 1842.

It is not the first astronomical clock to decorate the Cathedral – it replaced the original, built between 1352 and 1354, which ran until the beginning of the 16th Century.

The current clock has a perpetual calendar and planetary dial, as well as representations of the sun and moon’s positions, including eclipses. The procession of Christ and the Apostles, which takes place when the clock chimes, is the highlight of the clock for tourists.

According to legend, the guy who created the Strasbourg Cathedral clock was to be blinded so that he could never build anything as incredible ever again. Hardly very Christian, and nobody knows for sure if this happened, but it makes for an interesting narrative.

For around 750 years the Pillar of Angels, a depiction of the Last Judgement, has stood in front of the clock. Within this pillar, you’ll see four evangelists that have symbols etched underneath them, and four angels blowing their horns to raise the dead to Heaven above them.

Three additional angels and Christ on his celestial throne are then above these angels. During the spring and fall equinoxes, one of the most fascinating sights within the Cathedral occurs.

A green beam of light travels from one window to the crucifix over the pulpit, where it lands on the head of Christ. The green hue originates from Judas’ shoe in another window, which is only visible on a sunny day.

Cathedral Tower

Now let’s talk about the most striking feature of the Notre Dame de Strasbourg, yep we are talking about the North Tower, which was the world’s tallest building for several centuries.

Take the spiral staircase to enjoy stunning vistas of the Rhine and its surroundings. The climb is challenging because the steps are narrow and irregular, though the views over the Rhine Valley, Black Forest, Vosges Mountains, and European Parliament are well worth it.

The fact that Strasbourg Cathedral’s south tower, a second tower, was designed but never erected is one of the cathedral’s most intriguing and mysterious characteristics. The famed solitary tower that was constructed was nearly demolished during the French Revolution, due to anti-religious sentiments within the revolutionary ranks.

To save the tower, a local locksmith devised a great plan to cover the tower with a massive metal Phrygian cap – luckily, the revolutionaries lost interest and the bell tower was saved.

The Strasbourg Cathedral was damaged by bombings in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and again during World War II in 1944, but both times it was restored to its former glory.

The best views of the magnificent old church are found outside of it, and I urge you to delve into its foundations. From the corner of Rue Mercière and Place de la Cathédrale in Strasbourg, you can enjoy the best views of the Notre Dame de Strasbourg. 

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Tourist Attractions Near the Strasbourg Cathedral

Place de la Cathédrale in Strasbourg, France
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Other relevant sites include the Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, which administers the Cathedral’s conservation and care, located across from the Cathedral. The Museum also has the Strasbourg Cathedral’s original artwork, sculptures, and tapestries, which were replaced by replicas in the Strasbourg Cathedral.

The Palais Rohan, which is near the Cathedral, is regarded as one of the greatest specimens of French Baroque architecture and was formerly the residence of the Bishops and Cardinals of Strasbourg.

There are also several museums, such as the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Strasbourg History Museum. If you’re looking for something to do outdoors, you can take a walk or bike ride along the Ill River or visit one of the city’s parks, such as Kehlstein Park or Parc de l’Orangerie.

Oh, and one last thing, do try to visit Strasbourg during winter as you will also be able to visit the famous Christmas market that is held around the Strasbourg Cathedral every year.

Christmas Market in front of Strasbourg Cathedral
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

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Final Thoughts

If you’re ever in Strasbourg, be sure to visit Strasbourg Cathedral. It’s an amazing building from the middle ages that will leave you completely speechless. It’s well worth your time. After touring the inside, make sure to walk around the exterior and enjoy the view of the city from atop the hill.

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FAQ

What is the history of Strasbourg Cathedral?

Strasbourg Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Strasbourg, France. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Strasbourg and one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Europe. The current cathedral was completed in 1439 and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1988.

How tall is Strasbourg Cathedral?

The cathedral is 142 meters (466 ft) long, 86.9 meters (285 ft) wide at its widest point, and its towers are approximately 91 meters (299 ft) tall.

What are some of the notable features of Strasbourg Cathedral?

Some notable features of the cathedral include its many stained glass windows (including the famous “Rose Window”), its astronomical clock, and its pipe organ, which is one of the largest in Europe.

Are there any special events or activities at Strasbourg Cathedral?

Yes, there are often special events and activities taking place at the cathedral. For example, from mid-November to late December, the cathedral is decorated with a large Christmas market.

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