Surrounded by two arms of the River Ill, the Grande Ile (Big Island) is the historic centre of the Alsatian capital. It has an outstanding complex of monuments within a fairly small area. The cathedral, the four ancient churches and the Palais Rohan – former residence of the prince-bishops – far from appearing as isolated monuments, form a district that is characteristic of a medieval town and illustrates Strasbourg's evolution from the 15th to the 18th century.
Strasbourg - Grande Ile
© A. Capello
The Grande Île of Strasbourg is an outstanding example of an urban ensemble characteristic of central Europe and a unique ensemble of domestic architecture in the Rhine Valley of the 15th and 16th centuries. It represents the eastward vector of the Gothic art movement. The considerable influence which this model exerted on the statuary arts in the Germanic countries can be divided into three successive phases: the influence of the Pillar of the Last Judgement, the influence of the rood-screen, and the influence of the doors of the facade. Goethe considered Notre-Dame de Strasbourg to be the Gothic cathedral par excellence.
Surrounded by two arms of the River Ile, the Grande Île (Large Island) is the historic centre of the Alsatian capital. It was the site of the Roman castrum of Argentorate, the two principal axes of which have been respected by modern urban development. The Rue des Hallebardes and the Rue des Juifs are laid along the cardo while the Rue du Dôme and the Rue du Bain-des-Roses are two segments of the decumanus. Within a small area the Grande Île contains a remarkable monumental ensemble.
Rising above the high-pitched roofs with multi-storied dormer windows, several churches stand out on the skyline. The cathedral, whose single spire dominates the Alsatian plain, and the four old churches of St Thomas (12th-15th centuries), St Pierre-le-Vieux (13th-15th centuries), St Pierre-le-Jeune (12th-15th centuries), and St Etienne (12th century), are more than just isolated monuments: they fit coherently into an old quarter that exemplifies medieval cities and reflects the evolution of Strasbourg from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The cathedral, which is the principal element of the World Heritage site, illustrates this historic and urban coherence. It cannot be dissociated from the Oeuvre Notre-Dame, the institution which controlled the funds for its construction and upkeep. However, it is also closely tied to the Palais Rohan, built by the Rohan family in 1732-42 facing the south end of the transept as a residence for the cardinals, princes, and bishops of the family. The cathedral is closely linked with the Collège des Jésuites (now the Lycée Fustel de Coulanges) which adjoins it.
What emanates from the tight network of streets of shops and craftsmen is the image of medieval and post-medieval Christian society. The street names reflect the guild movement - Rue des Tonneliers, Rue des Charpentiers, Rue des Ecrivains, Place du Marché-aux-Poissons, Place du Marché-aux-Cochons-de-Lait, and so forth.
Public buildings such as the Hôtel de Ville (1585, today the Chamber of Commerce) or La Grande Boucherie de la Ville (1587-88, now a historic museum) stand alongside inns (Hôtellerie du Cerf), boutiques, and workshops, as well as elegant town mansions (the Kammerzell house and others in the Rue Mercière, the Rue du Vieux-Marché-aux-Poissons, and elsewhere). Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC