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Strasbourg - Cathedral area

strasbourg cathedral

Cathedrale Notre-Dame – The cathedral, started in the 12th century, took another three centuries to complete, and is a unique combination of Gothic architecture, sculpture and stained glass.

    Tip: Before visiting the cathedral, first go over the Oeuvre Notre-Dame Museum, which has original sculptures from the cathedral, with explanations (helps kids understand what they're seeing).
    Cathedral exterior – Start by walking all the way around the cathedral. Not only will kids get a sense of the immensity of this building project in the Middle Ages (the pink sandstone was brought from the Vosges mountains), but the exterior is richly decorated with incredible sculptures – religious figures (faces are very realistic) and mythical animals (gargoyles and chimera).
    At the west entrance, the central doorway has a lovely sculpture of Mary and curly-haired baby Jesus. On either side are doorways with the Wise and Foolish virgins (amazing how contemporary they look). The Wise Virgins have lances, and are stomping on Vices under their feet.
    Cathedral interior – Inside the cathedral, 12th - 14th century stained glass windows in blue, red, yellow, green are spectacular. Check out the magnificent rose window, and windows with different female and male saints (including popes, bishops and knights), kings and emperors, and scenes from Christ's life.
    - Astronomical clock In southern apse of the cathedral, the astronomical clock is a Renaissance technology achievement. Clock dials measure the time, rotating gods indicate seven days of the week, other hands show the time of sunrise and sunset, a globe displays phases of the moon. It's also decorated with sculptures - lion on the left holds the Strasbourg coat of arms, a cherub angel strokes the quarter hour, at the very top is a statue of the clock architect.
    The clock was restored in the 19th century, and it's possible to see parts of the clock move with a timed entry ticket. At the kiosk outside the southern portal, buy tickets at 11:30am, go into the cathedral at noon. At 12:30pm the twelve apostles move across in front of Christ, and skeleton Death strikes the hour, the rooster flaps his wings. Timed ticket is once a day, not available on Sunday.
    Tip: The actual movements in the clock are quite short and the figures are very high up. If it's winter (when we visited), it means standing in a cold cathedral for 45 min. Rather than the timed ticket, you may want to bring binoculars, and look at the astronomical clock at your leisure.
    - Creche In December, a beautiful life-size creche is set up, with Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, surrounded by shepherds, and a very dramatic arrival of the three Wise Men, accompanied by a tusked elephant and camel.
    Viewing platform - It's 330 steps to climb up the tower to a viewing platform on the cathedral, with panoramic views of the roofs of Strasbourg (and mountains on a clear day). On the way up, you'll pass by the gears of the tower clock, and look out to see carved animals (chimera) on the church exterior, stained glass windows, and flying buttresses.
    Tip: Little kids can climb up the tower, the viewing platform is fenced, but walking up, the stairs are narrow and there are no landings to stop, if kids are tired.
    Cathedral builders monument – In the square on the south side of the cathedral (Place du Chateau) is a modern monument to the amazing cathedral builders, masons and sculptors. A medieval creature (looks like a gargoyle) emerges from pink Vosges sandstone, surrounded by tools.

Musee de L'Oeuvre Notre Dame – This museum (housed in a Gothic - Renaissance building) has some of the original medieval sculptures and stained glass from the cathedral, as well as medieval and Renaissance art. What's great about the museum is it's a good introduction to the cathedral, where everything is identified, brightly lit, and you can see things close up.

    Check out stained glass from the cathedral with scenes from the life of Mary and Christ, sculptures from the octagon tower (which would be very hard to see on the cathedral), Wise and Foolish virgins, lions, St. Michael slaying the dragon, etc. Artworks are labeled in French, German and English.

Decorative Arts Museum (Musee des Arts decoratifs) – Located in the Palais Rohan, the museum displays original figures from the cathedral astronomical clock, including the automaton rooster from 1354, cherub angel who strikes the quarter hour, skeleton Death, and other figures that moved – in the clock. Check out the collection of early 20th century mechanical toys, old-fashioned cars, trains and airplanes.

    The Palais Rohan was where Napoleon stayed when he visited Strasbourg – walk through a richly decorated sitting room, bedroom, game room, "water closet," as well as the cardinal's library and chapel. Tip: In Napoleon's bedroom, notice the bed is quite short.
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