One of France's most stunning examples of late Gothic architecture, Strasbourg Cathedral towers over the Northern city's skyline with dramatic, imposing details. Rising to 466 feet (142 meters), this is the world's sixth-tallest place of worship— until the late 19th century it was taller than any other building in the world. the Notre Dame de Strasbourg is widely considered a medieval masterpiece and an essential stop when visiting Northern France and the Alsace region.
History of Strasbourg Cathedral
Places of worship, including several cathedrals and a Basilica, stood at the site of the present-day cathedral starting from at least the fifth century. Construction on the present-day structure began during around 1176, atop the foundations of an early 11th-century wooden structure that had burned to the ground. The Romanesque and Gothic cathedral was completed in 1439.
It has long been lauded for its subtle yet impressive architectural details. The French writer Victor Hugo, author of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," praised its "skillful combination of monumental size and delicateness."
In 1944, toward the end of World War II, the Cathedral was hit during air bomb raids by British and American forces. Repairs were only completed in the 1990s.
Highlights & What to Look For
Your visit to the Cathedral begins with the facade in a striking pink sandstone. Its hue is known to subtly shift depending on the time of day and the quality of the light.
Thousands of ornate sculptures and figures decorate the so-called "west front," which is easily one of the world's most elaborate examples of medieval decor. Elaborate portals lined with statuary and religious scenes draw the eye in; spend some time admiring these.
Also note the 466-foot (142-meter) spire and octagonal north tower that grace the facade. These graceful details have made it one of France's most iconic monuments. After Notre Dame in Paris, Strasbourg Cathedral attracts the most tourists every year.
Interior Details of Strasbourg Cathedral
The interiors of the cathedral are equally impressive. Stained-glass windows from the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries are mostly original, and cast colored light throughout the building. The rose window is particularly striking.
A large astronomical clock dating to the Renaissance period is a big drawcard and lies in a 17th-century case decorated by the artist Tobias Stimmer. It runs using mechanisms dating to the 19th century. Animated characters representing the different phases of life and death decorate the case and move at different points in the day, making for a mesmerizing spectacle. The last level shows the 12 Apostles, who pass in front of Christ. At 12:30 p.m. every day you can enjoy a lively show featuring the automata.
The suspended pipe organ situated on the north side of the Cathedral's central nave is quite impressive, and is held in a case dating to 1385.
The so-called "Emperor Windows" in the northern nave are comprised of five windows illustrating the lives of the 19 Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Some of these are originals and date to the 12th or 13th centuries, while others have been restored following significant damage.
Other interior details to watch for include an ornate pulpit dating to 1486, a baptismal font in the northern transept that was built in around 1443, and a series of wooden busts depicting the Apostles on the high altar, dating to the 17th century.
How to Visit
Notre Dame de Strasbourg is centrally located and easily accessible by foot, tram or bus. It's about 18 minutes on foot from the city's main train station, or a 10-15 minute tram ride to the Langstross/Grand Rue stop.
Entry to the main areas of the Cathedral is free for all visitors. You can pay a small entry fee to access the exterior viewing platform, from which you can enjoy interesting views of the city and countryside beyond.
What to See & Do Nearby
Notre Dame de Strasbourg lies in close reach of numerous worthwhile sights and attractions. Take a sightseeing cruise along the picturesque canals of the "Grande Ile," forming the main part of the city's old medieval center.
Visit the Palais Rohan, an 18th-century building that was formerly the residence of a prominent aristocratic family, now a museum. Finally, visit the Historical Museum for a fascinating journey back in time, learning about the Alsatian capital from the Middle Ages to the present day.