France // Alsace and Lorraine //

The cathedral

The Cathédrale de Notre-Dame soars out of the close huddle of medieval houses at its feet with a single spire of such delicacy that it seems the work of confectioners rather than masons. It’s worth slogging up the 332 steps to the spire’s viewing platform for the superb view of the Old Town, and, in the distance, the Vosges to the west and the Black Forest to the east.

The interior, too, is magnificent, the high nave a model of proportion enhanced by a glorious sequence of stained-glass windows. The finest are in the south aisle next to the door, depicting the life of Christ and the Creation, but the modern glass in the apse designed in 1956 by Max Ingrand to commemorate the city’s first European institutions is also beautiful. On the left of the nave, the cathedral’s organ perches precariously above one of the arches, while further down on the same side is the late fifteenth-century pulpit, a masterpiece of intricacy in stone by the aptly named Hans Hammer.

In the south transept are the cathedral’s two most popular sights. The Pilier des Anges is a slender triple-tiered central column, decorated with some of the most graceful and expressive statuary of the thirteenth century. The huge and enormously complicated astrological clock was built by Schwilgué of Strasbourg in 1842. It is a favourite with the tour-group operators, whose customers roll up in droves at midday to witness the clock’s crowning daily performance, striking the hour of noon, which it does with unerring accuracy at 12.30pm – that being pre-GMT midday Strasbourg time.

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