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Haguenau Travel Guide

The Old Chancellery, Haguenau (photo by Rh-67 - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license)
The Old Chancellery, Haguenau

Introduction

Haguenau (Hagenau in German ; pop. 35,000, with suburbs 58,000) is a second largest city in the Bas-Rhin after Strasbourg. It is tucked in the northeast corner of the French hexagon, 30 km north of Strasbourg and 35 km west of Baden-Baden in Germany.

Haguenau lies immediately south of the Northern Vosges Regional Nature Park, a wooden expanse of 130,500 hectares (1,305 km²) containing no less than 35 medieval castles and two Renaissance castles.


History

Haguenau was founded at the beginning of the 12th century by Frederick II, Duke of Swabia, who set up a hunting lodge on an island in the Moder River. The Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa fortified the settlement and in 1154 granted it a charter or rights giving it the status of town. Frederick I erected a palace on the site of the hunting lodge, which became one of his favourite residence. It is in this palace that the Imperial regalia of the Holy Roman Empire, i.e. the jewelled imperial crown, scepter, imperial globe, and sword of Charlemagne, were kept.

Frederick Barbarossa chose Hagenau as the rallying point from which to launch the Third Crusade in 1189. This was a massive expedition that combined the armies of the Holy Roman Empire, France (led by king Philip Augustus) and England (under Richard the Lionheart). The grand army of 100,000 men, including 20,000 knights, left Haguenau on 1st April 1189 en route for the Holy Land. Emperor Frederick drowned in the Saleph river in Turkey the next year, plunging his army into chaos.



The Old Customs House, Haguenau (photo by Rh-67 - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license)
The Old Customs House, Haguenau

In 1262, Richard of Cornwall, King of Germany, elevates Hagenau to the rank of Free Imperial City, thus conferring it Imperial immediacy. In 1354 it ratifies a treaty uniting of ten Alsatian Imperial cities (Haguenau, Colmar, Wissembourg, Turckheim, Obernai, Kaysersberg, Rosheim, Munster, Sélestat and Mulhouse) to form an alliance known as the Décapole, of which Haguenau becomes the capital. The aim of the pact is both defensive and offensive, serving mostly as a protective unit against French aggression. This Alsatian League would last until 1679, when it was dissolved by the Treaties of Nijmegen.

The Peace of Westphalia (1648) marking the end of the Thirty Years War ceded most of Alsace to France. Haguenau, however, doesn't wish to leave Germany, prompting Louis XIV to resort to force. In 1677, the troops of General Montclar loot and burn Haguenau, including Frederick I Barbarossa's Imperial palace (Kaiserpfalz), and massacre the population. All other Décapole member cities are subdued by 1680.

Attractions

Despite its turbulent history and the destruction of 1677, Haguenau managed to preserve a fair share of historical monuments. Foremost among them are the Old Chancellery (1484), a bright red Renaissance building now housing the Alsatian Museum, and the neo-Renaissance Historical Museum, built between 1900 and 1905.

Three gates survive from the medieval city walls: the Tour des Chevaliers (Knights' Tower), the Tour des Pêcheurs (Fishermen's Tower) and the Porte de Wissembourg (Wissembourg Gate).

The churches were spared by the troops of Louis XIV. Among them are the Gothic St. George's Church and St. Nicholas' Church, both originally built in the 13th century. Unfortunately they have lost many of their artistic treasures over the centuries, especially their medieval stained glass windows and outside sculptures.

The oldest secular edifice after the old chancellery is the Old Customs House (Ancienne Douane). Located 16 Place des Armes, it was built around 1518.

Historical Museum, Haguenau (photo by Szeder László - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license)
Historical Museum of Haguenau

Other noteworthy buildings include the Hôtel Fleckenstein (built in 1544), the 16th-century Grenier Saint-George, 18th-century Hôtel du Préteur Royal,

Like the rest of Alsace, Haguenau is retroceded to Germany in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War, and returned to France in 1919.

Hôtel du Bailli Hoffmann and Hôtel Barth, the Hôtel du Commandant de la Place, the Synagogue (dating from 1820), the Théâtre municipal (1846) and the Halle au houblon (1867).

How to get there

Haguenau is located 30 km north of Strasbourg. Regular trains from Strasbourg take approximately 30 minutes.

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