In the limited scope of the Grande Ile we find traces of Roman remains, medieval churches, Renaissance buildings and monuments, 18th century mansions ... all vestiges of the city’s history over the centuries. It is therefore difficult to find a true architectural unity, however there is a certain consistency in the urban layout, heavily influenced by the organization of medieval streets and squares.
The jewel of the Grande Ile remains the Notre Dame Cathedral whose spire, the Astronomical Clock and statues testify to the exceptional artistic and technical quality of this Gothic construction.
Notre-Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg
Place de la Cathédrale, 67000 Strasbourg
Open every day for the visit: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m./ 12:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m., excepted on Sunday morning.
Accessible to those with reduced mobility on the north side.
Several buildings have been located on the site of the present Notre Dame Cathedral. There are few remains of the earlier buildings, except for the crypt of the Romanesque cathedral that dates back to the 11th century. In the next century (1176), construction began for the present cathedral. It was not completed until almost three centuries later (1439). Considered a major masterpiece of Gothic art, it is distinguished by its monumental facade that consists of an exceptionally rich statuary, by its spire that made it the highest cathedral in Europe until the 19th century, by its astronomical clock, a highly technical work of silver and goldsmiths, and by its pillar of Angels (or of Judgement Day) which expresses an alliance of architecture and art. The Strasbourg Cathedral reunites all styles: from the Middle Ages to Romanesque art and Gothic style in their most nuanced forms. The cathedral alone is a veritable encyclopedia of medieval architecture. Goethe considered it the Gothic cathedral par excellence.
A true picture book that unfolds along the visit, the cathedral has many wonders to discover. Its sculptures and stained glass windows tell the stories of the Bible, the Church and the history of the Middle Ages.
The main facade (1277-1340)
The three major portals are dedicated to Christ. They evoke, from left to right, his childhood, the Passion, and the Last Judgment. It would be difficult not to be struck by the profusion of biblical representations, their intense expressiveness amplified by the relief statues that play with the shadows and light, giving life and grace to the stone lace. At sunset, the sandstone glows orange, giving this great work a marvelous dimension. A breathtaking sight!
The central portal
In the center, the Virgin and Child are represented on the trumeau, recalling the Cathedral’s dedication to Mary. She is found above the tympanum, above Christ on his throne surrounded by lions, representing the Ascension. The tympanum evokes the passion of Christ. On each side are the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and evangelists, as well as scenes from the Old and New Testament. At the center of the tympanum, Christ is represented on the cross. On his right stands the Church and at this left, the Synagogue.
The left portal presents statues of Virtues slaying Vices with their spears, delicately constructed. The tympanum addresses the theme of Christ's childhood.
The statuary of the right portal represents Wise Virgins, illuminated by Christ, and Foolish Virgins, ready to succumb to temptation. The tympanum recounts the story of the Resurrection and the Last Judgment.
The three portals culminate by triangular pediments, above which sits the rosetta window.
The large rosetta window (1340), 14 meters in diameter, is beautifully made. The window is composed of images of wheat, symbol of the commercial power in the city. At its perimeter, 16 small roses symbolize the prophets. Below, on the pillars, the four statues represent from left to right: Clovis, Dagobert, Rodolphe Habsburg and Louis XIV. The latter was added in 1828, while the first three are original (1291).
12 apostles are represented above the rosette, surmounted by the glorious Christ surrounded by angels.
The spire of the North Tower
Completed in 1439, the spire rises to 142 meters. Besides its height and the lightness it evokes, its structure remains unusual for a French cathedral. The spire completed the construction of the cathedral, as a personal and unique signature. Indeed, the addition of spires on towers is a specialty of German architecture, of which there are only a few in France. It remained the tallest spire in Europe until the 19th century.
The north facade
Saint Laurent portal
Made in the a Flamboyant Gothic style (15th century), visitors will notice the fine detail of the sculptures. On the tympanum at the top of the gate, the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence is evoked, seen lying on the grill surrounded by his executioners. To the left of the gate, the Virgin presents Christ to the Magi.
The south facade
The entrance doors date back to the Romanesque period, while the doorsways were completed in a Gothic style. The tympanums evoke the Death of the Virgin, the Assumption and Coronation. The central pillar represents King Solomon on his throne. On each side of the doors stand the statues of the Church and of the Synagogue. To the left, the church supports the triumphant Cross. To the right, the Synagogue, weakened, holds the Tables of the Law and is blindfolded. Both statues are considered masterpieces of Gothic art.
The main nave is 118 meters long, built in the 13th century in record time. The building strikes the visitor by its harmonious proportions. The arch rises to 31 meters, which gives the impression of a smaller vertical reach than that in other Gothic cathedrals of northern France.
The Choir (1240)
Under the choir is the crypt, a remnant of the previous cathedral (accessible during guided tours only). The Bysantine style paintings that adorn the choir date from the 19th century.
Jesus on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem (15th century) is represented in the left transept. In front, the baptismal font is in a flamboyant Gothic style. The windows date from the 13th and 14th centuries.
In the right transept, next to the astronomical clock, resides another masterpiece of the cathedral: the pillar of the Angels or the Last Judgment (13th century). Innovative concept at the time, it expressed a great lightness. The corners of the octagonal pillar are made of finely carved columns of twelve refined statues that express thanks and pleasure. From the bottom to the top, four evangelists overlook their symbols, then four musician angels with trumpets, and finally up top, Christ with three angels holding the instruments of the Passion.
The Astronomical Clock (1547)
Show : full price / reduced price: €3 / €2. Free for children under 6 years old.
A film about the astronomical clock is shown from 12 p.m. (except Sundays and holidays) followed by the procession of the Apostles at 12:30 p.m. every day.
Beyond the artistic aspect that remains a masterpiece of the Renaissance, the astronomical clock fascinates visitors with its automation. Every day at 12:30 p.m., the different stages of life, symbolized by a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man, pass by Death. Above them, the 12 apostles parade before Christ who blesses them, while a rooster crows and flaps its wings. This highly technical clock required several years of work by Swiss watchmakers and a tight collaboration between engineers, mathematicians and artists. Its mechanism was restored in 1842.
The stained glass windows overlooking the choir and transept date mostly from the 12th and 13th centuries. They evoke the Virgin, the Eastern kings and the monarchs ... The windows of the nave evoke the heavenly Jerusalem and the bishops of the cathedral. One the south side, the lives of the Virgin and Christ are mentioned. On the opposite side, portraits of the monarchs of the Holy Roman Empire are displayed according to historical chronology.
The great organ, suspended in the nave, was installed by the famous organ builder André Silbermann (1713-1716). The Gothic buffet on which it is placed, in polychrome wood, dates back to the early 15th century. This is one of the finest organs in the region. On each side, two automations activate during services to distract the faithful.
The Gothic hexagonal pulpit dates back to 1485. Next to the organ, it is finely carved and decorated with fifty statuettes. You can see Christ surrounded by the Virgin Mary, the apostles and angels bearing the instruments of the Passion.
If you visit the cathedral in December, you'll have the chance to admire the 17th century tapestries exhibited in the nave during Advent. 14 beautiful pieces depicting the life of the Blessed Virgin.
The climb to the platform of the cathedral
Full price / reduced price: €5 / €3.50. Free for children under 5 years old.
Free admission the first Sunday of each month.
Open every day from April through September: 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. ; October through March: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed until July 2019 for works.
If you’re hesitating to climb the 330 steps to the top, the exceptional panorama that unfolds above will make you quickly forget your effort. The view extends from the rooftops of Strasbourg to the Vosges mountains and the German Black Forest.