Monday, January 21, 2013

Lons le Saunier, France - June 21, 2012

Leaving the Alsace region, we headed south into the Franche-Comté region and visited Lons le Saunier in the Jura department. In one travel guide Lons le Saunier is decribed as the sort of place you would stop by for a coffee if you were really thirsty. It is actually an old Roman salt city nowadays known as a spa city where visitors can sample the therapeutic effects of the salt water. In the heart of the Jura vineyards, Lons le Saunier is a picturesque and historic city. For our purposes, it was on the route we were following and had an adequate campsite nearby for a couple of nights R&R. We did make an incursion into town and confirmed the guide book's assessment.
Lons le Saunier is a sprawling, ill-defined town, home to about 19,000 people and seems to be struggling to develop an identity. The Place de la Liberté with its theater and Grand Cafe are the focal point of cultural and social activities. Geographically, the town is at the foot of the Jura massif and, although the River Vallière runs through it, the river has been enclosed since the 1960s due to contamination. Just one small section remains open where it is crossed by the Pont de la Guiche, the solitary bridge. See here for a few more images.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Breisach am Rhein, Germany - June 17, 2012

Breisach am Rhein, a town of approximately 16,500, is on the right bank of the river Rhine in the Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald district of Germany. Before 1820 the hill on which Breisach stands became an island during flood season. Johann Gottfried Tulla, a German engineer, put a stop to this when he straightened the river - actually reducing the river's length between Basle and Worms from 220 miles to 170 miles - in the space of a few years. Navigation and flooding problems were greatly alleviated along the upper reaches of the Rhine although the middle and lower Rhine suffered serious flooding thereafter. So much for unintended consequences.
The Breisach cathedral - Saint Stephansmünster - was begun in the early 13th century and, by the early 16th century, the town had become a significant stronghold of the Holy Roman Empire. In December 1638, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, aided and abetted by the French, conquered the city and attempted to establish a new territory. Bernhard died the following year and the town somehow slipped into French hands. Hmm.
The ownership changed several times more over the next 150 years finally ending up a part of Germany and the general instability of the area moved France to build its own fortress, Neuf-Brisach, on the left bank of the river. During WWII, 85% of Breisach was destroyed by Allied artillery as the Allies crossed the Rhine and Saint Stephansmünster was also heavily damaged. See more views around town here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Neuf Brisach, France - June 16, 2012

Still in the Haut-Rhin department of the Alsace we stopped at an odd little town called Neuf Brisach, population 2,200 or so, its name taken from the town of Breisach just three miles away across the Rhine in Germany. After Breisach was lost to the Habsburgs in 1697, this fortified town was built by the French to guard the border. Louis XIV had his vaunted military engineer Vauban design the project and work started in 1698.
This turned out to be Vauban's last work - he died in 1707 and construction was actually completed by Louis de Cormontaigne. The layout represented the then current "ideal city" with a regular square grid street pattern inside an octagonal fortification.
A 4 block by 4 block area was set aside at the center for the central square. Elsewhere, individual blocks were offered for private development for expensive houses in private gardens or as properties for commercial rent. Simpler housing was provided in long tenement blocks, built inside each curtain wall, which also had the effect of shielding the better houses from the risk of cannon fire. Access was provided by large gateways in the four principal curtain walls.
The outer earthworks were deep and occupied a greater area than the city itself. Although the city suffered some damage in WWII, it still represents a very clear example of the latest in fortification work at the beginning of the eighteenth century and Neuf-Brisach was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. Fortified or not, this "new" town has changed hands five times in the 300 years or so of its existence. More images here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Eguisheim, France, June 15, 2012

Eguisheim is a tiny fairy tale town in the Haut-Rhin department of the Alsace region in north-eastern France. The Romans conquered the area, pushing out the Gaul tribe and, during their tenure, the Romans introduced the cultivation of wine. Numerous high quality wines are produced there to this day.
In the early Middle Ages, the Dukes of Alsace built a castle (11th century) around which the current settlement developed. The village is on the Alsace "Wine Route" and is a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France ("The most beautiful villages of France"), both of which draw many visitors each year.
The name of the city comes from "home of Egino or Egeno," the Count of Eguisheim and the first official mention of the city dates back to 720. At the center of Eguisheim, which was fortified in 1257, are the remains of the castle that was constructed in the 13th century by the Count Eberhard.
If you ever get to this region of eastern France, do take a while and checkout this treasure. More pictures here.