City of Luxembourg: its Old Quarters and Fortifications
City Of Luxembourg: Its Old Quarters And Fortifications
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Because of its strategic position, Luxembourg was, from the 16th century until 1867 when its walls were dismantled, one of Europe's greatest fortified sites. It was repeatedly reinforced as it passed from one great European power to another: the Holy Roman Emperors, House of Burgundy, Habsburgs, French and Spanish kings, and finally the Prussians. Until their partial demolition, the fortifications were a fine example of military architecture spanning several centuries.

The City of Luxembourg is located at the crossing point of two major Roman roads. In 963 Sigefroid, a count from the Moselle valley, built a castle on the Rocher du Bock, which he obtained by means of an exchange with the Abbey of St Maximin of Trier. His servants and soldiers settled around the castle and the modern town sprang from the market-place of this settlement, the Vieux Marché.

The town had grown to such an extent that a second defensive wall was built around the end of the 12th century, to be superseded in the 15th century when a third line of defences was built. By the 16th century, Luxembourg had become a strategic and military prize. The House of Burgundy, the Habsburgs, the French and Spanish kings or the Holy Roman Emperors all wanted Luxembourg. Throughout this period the defences were continuously extended and improved, making it into a fortress that earned the title 'Gibraltar of the North'. With the signature of the Treaty of London in 1867, the European powers confirmed the perpetual neutrality of the Grand Duchy and, in consequence, the evacuation of the fortress within three months and the demolition of the fortifications. This turned a grim fortress of some 180 ha into an open city.

The old quarter of the City of Luxembourg extends westwards from the Bock promontory, where the first ducal family established itself. The Rocher du Bock is a honeycomb of 17th- and 18th-century casemates, the largest surviving ensemble of underground fortifications. Also of importance is the bridge joining the Bock to the upper town, the Church of Saint-Michel, originating from the 10th century. The latter-day Marché-aux-Poissons was the main market in the Middle Ages and the first open space in the town. The present Grand Ducal Palace stands on the site of the first maison communale built in 1244 and of the Hôtel de Ville. The Rue Wiltheim, which leads down to Pfaffenthal, follows the route of the Roman road to Trier.

The governmental quarter and Notre-Dame Cathedral: the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Luxembourg is the former church of the Jesuit College upon which work began in 1613;it was consecrated in 1621. It is an outstanding example of Netherlands late Gothic architecture, with a Renaissance portal and rood-screen. Alongside the cathedral is the Présidence du Gouvernement, known today as the Maison de Bourgogne. It belonged until 1676 to the Berbourg family, traditional cup-bearers to the ducal house. Its brick staircase towers illustrate the transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance style. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Rue Notre-Dame was built in 1751 in characteristic Louis XV style.

The lower town of Grund and the Plateau du Rham: archaeological excavations have shown that the Grund and Rham areas were settled for some six centuries before Count Sigefroid took possession of the Bock promontory in 963. The Wenceslas Wall formed part of the third defensive circuit built in the late 14th century. It underwent a number of modifications and strengthenings as artillery improved.

The Grund sluice was built by the Austrians in 1731;it consists of a massive masonry dam with vaulted openings that could be closed to prevent water passing through them. Much of the lock was dismantled in 1878, but its remains are still impressive, and also provide a magnificent panorama of the city. The Hospital Saint-Jean was founded in 1308;in 1543 a Benedictine community was established there, to become known as the Neuminster.