Photo of Strasbourg history

This article is about the history of Strasbourg. For the main guide to the city please see Strasbourg guide.

The city of Strasbourg was formerly one of the most important strongholds of France, not only for the fortifications surrounding the city, but also for the “Citadel” that Louis XIV had built here by Vauban (1633-1707) in the late 17th century.

Situated at one of the few points of docking accessible to the Rhine, the location of Strasbourg was originally established because of its geographical location although the first city here actually developed about three kilometres from the river and communicated with the Rhine through two water channels.

In ancient times Strasbourg began life as a Celtic village, then later it became a Roman castrum called Argentoratus. This name, etymologically, means 'Passing on the Water' or, rather, 'a place where one passes water'.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, in 496 A.D it came under the domain of the Franks under Clovis. In the sixth century the town was renamed and it became Strateburg, the 'city of roads' or 'meeting point of many roads', and then 'Strasbur'. Between the sixth and seventh centuries it became the Duke's of Alsace domain and Episcopal seat, who in practice dominated the city until its transformation in a Municipality.

Over the centuries, Strasbourg became an important place of waterway passage for navigation on the Rhine and a key point for river trade within a radius of ten miles; in fact, Charlemagne, in 775, authorized the city to trade throughout the Empire.

The city was dominated by the Bishop’s power until 1262, when Bishop Walter de Geroldseck was defeated by the bourgeoisie in the battle of Hausbergen. Strasbourg in 1332 became an “Imperial City”, with great autonomy and privileges which were confirmed between 1356 and 1368 by the German Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378), and which were successfully defended in 1429 against a new attempt by Bishop Guillom de Diest to dominate the city.

The first half of the fifteenth century was very important for Strasbourg; called in that period “Strassburg”, because it was at that time that the cathedral was built (1439), by Jean Hültz, and because the printing press was invented here (1440) by Jean Gutenberg.

Furthermore, between the thirteenth and sixteenth century, the city became one of the most powerful fortifications first of the German Empire and then of France. It was reinforced during the Middle Ages, becoming a place surrounded by walls and towers and the city was accessible only through the doors: the “Porte de Saverne” (1349), “Porte de Pierres” (1347), “Porte des Juifs” (1399), “Porte de Bouchers” (1400), “Porte des pêcheurs” (1541) and “Porte Blanche”, also of the sixteenth century.

As already mentioned, Louis XIV had the city strengthened by Vauban, who built the Citadel, pentagonal in shape and armed with five bastions - it was begun in 1682 and completed in 1685; this system of fortifications remain intact until 1866, when it had some modifications to adapt it to the attacks of modern artillery.

Until 1870, its military arsenal was one of the largest in France. The city had in eight barracks with possibly 12000 men and 1800 horses; in addition its reserves of food and ammunitions could be used to supply approximately 180,000 men.

Strasbourg today has become once again a central place of politics, the seat of the European Parliament and then the engine of the New Europe.