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Obernai Travel Guide

Obernai (© Lotharingia -
Old houses, Obernai


Obernai (Oberehnheim in German ; pop. 11,000) is a historical town between Strasbourg and Colmar. It is the most visited destination in Alsace after Strasbourg.



Obernai crops up in history as the birthplace of St Odile of Alsace (662-720), daughter of Etichon (Athich), Duke of Alsace. The first mentioned of a village in Obernai was in 778. Then called Ehinheim, its name would evolve to Ehenheim superior in the 13th century. The Latin superior was Germanised to ober in the 16th century to give Obernehenheim - a name that has hardly changed in modern German, Oberehnheim. The first French form appears in 1693 as Oberné.

The Hohenstauffen family constructed a castle in Obernai in the 9th century. In 1240, Obernai acquires the status of town, and in 1280 it becomes a Free Imperial City, answering to no one else but the emperor. In 1354 it forms an alliance with nine other Alsatian Free Imperial Cities known as the Décapole (or Zehnstädtebund in German), which was to last until 1679.

Obernai (© Lotharingia -
Timber-framed houses, Obernai

The town flourished in the 15th and 16th century, but the Thirty Years' War (1618–48) brought an end to that prosperity. Ceded to France in 1679 buy the Treaty of Nijmegen, Obernai starts an economic recovery, though never regaining its former glory.


Obernai is a town to explore at a leisurely pace on foot. There aren't any big sights to head to. It is the whole well preserved architectural heritage that gives the place its charm.

The most conspicuous building is the 16th-century Beffroi (belfry) that rises 60 metres above the ground. It is called Kappelturm (chapel tower) in German as it used to be the clocktower of a 13th century chapel.

On the other side of the town square stands the Halle aux Blés. Contrarily to what its name suggests, it was not a corn exchange but a public butcher's shop. It was constructed in 1554 in the Renaissance style intertwined with Gothic elements.

Also of interest include :

  • the Puits à six seaux ("six seals wells", dating from 1559.
  • the Mittelbadstube, old public baths from 1567.
  • the Château de Gail, built in 1826-1827, now occupied by the Lycée Freppel.
  • the neo-medieval Oberkirch Castle, built between 1843 and 1846.
  • the Château El Biar, constructed in 1864-65 and named after a residential district in Algiers.
  • the Domaine de la Léonardsau housing current museum of the horse and the horse carriage.
  • the ruins of Truttenhausen abbey, a 15th-century Augustinian monastery just outside town.

Belfry of Obernai
Belfry of Obernai

How to get there

Obernai sits right next to the E25 motorway, 25 km south-west of Strasbourg towards Colmar. Regular trains from Strasbourg take 30 minutes.

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