Wissembourg is a tiny village of northern L'Alsace, in the department of Bas-Rhin (lower Rhine = Rhein). River Lauter (one of Rhine's west inflowing rivers) is traversing, which makes it even more picturesque for me - a kind of small Venice atmosphere (I like small creeks or streams anywhere).
Wissembourg was most probably founded around 1180, when the cloister had its early days. Later, it was surrounded by fortress walls.
Many very old houses, partly half timbered, or with thatched roofs, can be discovered when wandering around.
One of the most famous ones is the La Maison du Sel (salt house), seen in photo 1 in the back. It was built in 1448, first as hospital, but was transformed into a salt house later on. It had its importance as such, as salt was a very important ingredient of daily food (well is still today), and the kings of middle age took over salt trade at a point in time, and ... to guarantee their lifestyle... raised taxes on salt.
Ahh, I like to learn when doing reseach for tips - so what I learned now is:
any taxes, also the salt tax, have been set up and collected quite drastic (well, aren't they all the same during all centuries ?), and the increasing dissatisfaction with the taxes finally lead to the french revolution.
(should we learn something out of that ? LOL - joke !!)
More about Wissembourg, when I'm there again during full daylight :-)
The Quartier du Bruch, or S'Bruch, is an area of town featuring a very romantic canal. Stroll around, enjoy the scenery and architecture, and hug your partner. Unfortunately for me, my wife was thousands of miles away, so the area made me feel more lonely than romantic. Still, it is another pretty sight in a very attractive Alsatian town.
An enjoyable activity is to walk around the town walls. Start your stroll near the fortifications, or "Grabenloch," then just keep wandering. The path intersects streets at times, but it's pretty easy to follow the walls around. The most enjoyable area to view is along the Lauter.
Near the center of town is L’Eglise Sts-Pierre-et-Paul, or The Church of Saints Peter and Paul. While modest in size, the interior is truly magnificent. Unfortunately, it is very dark inside and flash photography is not allowed, so the photos I took might not do it justice.
As with most churches in Europe, be aware this church is active with local worshipers, so make sure to enjoy the architecture with respect and in silence.
A tiny picture but of great significance in the world of art history: The little round stained glass piece with the face of Christ was created around 1060/65 and is one of the oldest known stained glass paintings. It was discovered in the abbey church.
The original has been transferred to the Musée de l' oeuvre Notre-Dame in Strasbourg. A copy can be admired in Wissembourg, inserted in a modern window in the little Romanesque chapel St. Pierre et Paul. The chapel can be found in the cloister behind the abbey church.
The Church of St John Baptist used to be the parish church of Weißenburg while the abbey church served for the monastery alone. In 1536 the reformation according to the Strasbourg reformater Martin Bucer was introduced. The church stayed protestant until 1684. Due to the laws of Louis XIV it then became a simultaneous church which was used both by catholics and protestants. In the revolution it became a “Temple of Reason” but since 1802 it has been the sole property of the protestant community.
The originally Romanesque church underwent profound changes throughout the centuries. To obtain more space the pillars and vaults have been removed and the room covered with a flat wooden ceiling. World War II has caused notable damage but the church has been repaired.
The sacristy contains precious 14th century frescoes but these can only be visited throughout limited hours on Saturdays. Otherwise, the church is open daily.
For the best view of the church and the adjacent old parsonage, climb the ramparts.
The little chapel off the cloister is the oldest part of the abbey that still exists – it may well be the oldest building in the whole town. The architecture is early Romanesque. The chapel was consecrated in 1033 and dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul, the patron saints of the abbey.
Access is from the courtyard behind the abbey church next to the incomplete eastern wing of the cloister through a small door - watch for the sign, it is easily overlooked.
The small round portrait of Christ in the apse window is famous as one of the oldest stained glass paintings known. It has been inserted into a modern stained glass window depicting an abstract cross.
In summer 2009 the chapel was used for an exhibition of contemporary religious art with paintings by Cathy Wuest, in 2010 they are having a new exhibition with reproductions of paintings by Caravaggio. For the first time I was able to enter the chapel instead of just peeping through the grille.
Around Christmas a nativity is put up in the chapel.
The baroque town hall was still decorated for the celebration of July 14, the national holiday and anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution.
The centre of the town administration is located in a prominent location in the townscape where the main streets, Rue Nationale and Rue de la République, meet. The crests in the gable have been removed. I wonder whose crests have originally been under the golden crown. Might be interesting.
Location: Place de la République (sic!)
In Rue de l’Ordre Teutonique, I noticed the entrance to a small passage underneath a house, named Schlupfgasse, with a sign that announced a picturesque view of the river Lauter 20 m behind (photo 1). Curious me could not resist checking that out. This spot is well hidden, if you find it, walk in!!! You come along a narrow footpath between walls (photo 2) and end up on a small bridge across the stream. The view goes straight to the spire of the abbey church and… well, see photo 3…
The museum was closed (temporarily? for good? Dunno…) when I passed. I nevertheless recommend walking by, as the Westercamp is probably the prettiest half-timbered house in town. The woodwork of the façade is decorated with elaborate woodcarvings.
Location. Rue du Musée in the north of the old town
In the late 17th century Louis XIV annexed the whole Alsace, which was confirmed in the peace treaty of Rijswijk in 1697. Weißenburg became Wissembourg, and it became a border town. In the 18th century its fortifications were enlarged and modernized.
Parts of the baroque fortress with its high ramparts are still visible along the northern flank of the old town. The ramparts trail shows them. The Tour de la Poudrière, a tower on the ramparts, was keeping watch of the city gate. On the outer side the dry moat and contrescarpe are well preserved. The ramparts used to be bare, they are now covered in trees and serve as park and promenade.
This self-guided tourist trail leads along the remains of both the medieval and the 18th century fortifications. It is well marked and the different attractions are all explained, detailed in French and a short summary in German and English. The whole walk takes about an hour. Maps (apologies for the lousy photo) that show the trail are put up in several spots so you can pick any part you are interested in.
Photographers, I recommend this trail even if you are not that much into military history because it leads to many fine viewpoints.
The trail touches the medieval wall with towers and gates along the south and southwest, the gate tower and the romantic canal in the Bruch, and the 18th century ramparts along the northern edge of the old town.
The spot where the river Lauter enters the town on the western side and divides into two branches has been heavily fortified with a gate tower with the old German name of Hausgenossenturm. Next to it a river lock controls the amount of water that flows either into or around the town.
The Bruch, B itche in French (without the blank of course, VT won't let me type it without), is a medieval suburb that developed outside the town along the river Lauter. This is the cutest part of the town. If ever you see Wissembourg photos showing a canal and old houses and lots of flowers on tiny bridges, this is where they were taken. A romantic overkill, if ever there is one… Have your camera ready.
More photos in the travelogues!
The meeting point of two river branches on the edge of the town has been heavily fortified in the middle ages. Only very small openings in the wall allow the water to pass but no boat would get through. This is where the most impressive (and most romantic) remains of the medieval fortifications are preserved. A little park with foot and bike trails has been created along the moats.