Whenever I visit a new city, I try to get to its highest point. In Strasbourg, France, that point is Strasbourg Cathedral, one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever visited and also the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874.
While I would visit Strasbourg for just its cathedral alone (see below), I’ll admit that it was fate that brought me to the top of this beautiful church. It was my second visit to Strasbourg and this time I was really there for the Christmas markets. The cathedral was of secondary importance — after all, why visit an old church when there are cauldrons of vin chaud and loaves of pain d’épices everywhere you look?
Nevertheless, on the afternoon of our arrival, I took out my Strasbourg Pass and saw that it included admittance to the top of the cathedral and thought, “why not make the climb?” As I found out, it was the very last afternoon we could climb to the top of Strasbourg Cathedral before it closed for repairs. Like I said: fate.
And so we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. It was not fun (and in a confession that I’m not altogether proud of, the most exercise I had gotten in a very long time). But the views were worth the [painful] 332 steps up each spiral staircase.
On top of Strasbourg Cathedral
In a view that would take my breath away if I were not already breathless from the climb, I took in Strasbourg from above. Using this bird’s eye view to get better acquainted with a city I already knew I loved, I silently expressing gratitude that I decided to choose the day of our arrival to visit the top of Strasbourg Cathedral.
While the platform to Strasbourg Cathedral is closed until mid-2019 for repairs, use the photos below to see just how beautiful Strasbourg is from above. And don’t forget to keep scrolling because Strasbourg Cathedral is still worth visiting, even if you can’t make it up to the top!
Inside Strasbourg Cathedral
Built entirely in the Middle Ages, Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest building in the world for more than 200 years. In addition to being one of the finest examples of high Gothic architecture remaining today, Strasbourg Cathedral has a fascinating history spanning hundreds of years.
Strasbourg Cathedral’s Fascinating History
As a history and cathedral lover, I couldn’t stop
looking into obsessively researching the history of Strasbourg Cathedral. To me, it just makes the cathedral that much more special and worth visiting.
– The Cathedral is built on the site of a Roman sanctuary as well as on the site of fifth- and seventh-century cathedrals. One final cathedral burnt down in 1176 before the construction of the present-day Strasbourg Cathedral began.
– Construction of the cathedral was completed in 1439. It took the entirety of the 13th century to build the nave if you can believe it!
– They started building the church in the Romanesque style but then replaced it with the Gothic style, drawing inspiration from a team from Chartres, France.
– The spire of the cathedral was the tallest in the world from 1647 to 1874 and a planned second tower was never built, making the cathedral’s asymmetric facade so unique.
– As Strasbourg figured as a major city during the Protestant Reformation, Strasbourg Cathedral became Protestant in 1524 (but became Catholic again in 1681).
– Instead of tearing the spire down during the French Revolution (thank goodness they didn’t!), it was topped with a red Phrygian cap in support of the Enragés who ruled the city.
– During World War II, Adolf Hitler visited the Cathedral and intended to turn it into a German national monument. Also during the war, the stained glass in Strasbourg Cathedral was removed and buried in a German salt mine before being brought back by American troops at the end of the war.
The Astronomical Clock
Strasbourg Cathedral also houses a beautiful 18-meter astronomical clock. The clock’s predecessor was built in the 1500s but this one dates from 1838 to 1843. Incredibly accurate, the clock was able to determine the date of Easter in the Christian calendar at a time when computers didn’t yet exist.
It is also able to indicate solar time, the day of the week (each represented by a god of mythology), the month, the year, the sign of the zodiac, the phase of the moon, and the position of several planets. According to legend, the eyes of the architect of the clock were gouged out upon finishing the clock so he couldn’t copy his design elsewhere. You can see all the parts in motion at 12:30 PM each day.
Visiting Strasbourg Cathedral: Practical Information
- The cathedral itself is open every day and free to visit, but you will have to have your bag(s) quickly searched by security upon entering
- Like I said above, the platform to the top of the cathedral is closed for restoration work until mid-2019. Once it reopens, there is a small fee to climb to the top of the platform. This fee is included in the cost of your Strasbourg Pass if you purchased one
- This website provides a daily listing of the opening times of the cathedral. I recommend checking it before you go so you aren’t turned away during a worship service
- Strasbourg Cathedral is still a house of worship, so remember to be respectful of your surroundings and to the people who might be praying
- You can view the astronomical clock in action every day at 12:30. If you would like to see a short film on the clock, one is shown every day at 12 for €3. More information here.