Colmar

Colmar (pop 65,700) is the capital of the Haut-Rhin department and is one of the main cities on the Route du Vin D’Alsace. The city was ruled by various sovereigns in the region up until 1679 when it was officially ceded to France; however, it was handed back and forth between Germany and France for the next two and half centuries. Colmar was most recently returned to France only in 1945, following which the city has been governed by conservative parties. A fleeting glance will reveal the many modern, nondescript buildings have been erected in the city as post-war reconstructions. However, a look closer will show that Colmar has a quaint old town centre which preserves traditional Alsatian structures that stand on pretty cobblestoned streets.

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You can arrive at Colmar via bus or train, at the terminal located southwest of town. The stations are well-connected to the Musée d’Unterlinden via Avenue de la République. Colmar’s old city quarter lies southeast of the museum, enclosed by the Petite Venise sector on its southern border.

 

 

 

 


The old city quarter of Colmar envelopes the area surrounding the Collegiale St-Martin [Place de la République, +33 389412720], the Temple St-Matthieu [Grand’Rue, +33 389414496] and the Église des Dominicains [Place des Dominicains, +33 389244657]. The Collegiale St-Martin is a 13th-14th century Gothic structure that is oddly crowned by a Mongolian-style copper spire, which dates back to the 16th century. This collegiate church was built stop an older Romanesque structure. Temple St-Matthieu lies southeast of this and is a quintessentially Protestant edifice. However, the original 14th century Gothic choir section became a Catholic hospital chapel in 1715. This divided ‘identity’ lasted until 1937. The Église des Dominicains is in the northern section of the old city. This small church has a big reputation, as it houses Martin Schongauer's 15th century Vierge au buisson de rose (Virgin of the Rosebush) painting in its choir.

The entire old city quarter makes for a good stroll as the main streets (such as Grand’Rue, rue des Clefs and rue des Marchands) are lined with pretty, half-timbered buildings. Notable ones include the Maison Pfister- a remarkably well-decorated 16th century mansion that boasts a carved wooden balcony and a fine oriel window  [opposite 36 rue des Marchands]; and the Maison des Têtes which makes for an intriguing visit, with its façade that is crowded with 106 grimacing stone heads [19 rue des Têtes]. 

Colmar is also spotted with other interesting quartiers, in an attempt to upkeep the old ambience of the place that lingered here when the residences belonged to specific guilds. These include the houses on the rue des Tanneurs (literally the Tanners’ stretch, as its houses are built with rooftop verandahs to dry the hides) and the rue de la Poissonneirie (Fishermen’s quarter, with houses that line the path along the River Lauch). The quaint Petite Venise quarter lies along this stretch as well and is named becasue of the canal waterways.

Such rich heritage has endowed Colmar with acclaimed museums that act as the main tourist draw. An outstainding one is the Musée d’Unterlinden [1 rue Unterlinden, +33 389201550, www.musee-unterlinden.com, ad/ch €8/Free], which alone is responsible for attracting over 200,000 visitors to Colmar. The museum is housed in a 13th century convent and is dedicated to displaying the artworks, archaeological relics and objet d’arts from the medieval and Renaissance eras. The highlight of the Musée d’Unterlinden is the Isenheim Altarpiece. This late-gothic piece is considered to be one of the most moving and realistic illustrations of the New Testament, depicting scenes from the Nativity, the Crucifixion, Entombment and the Resurrection. Commissioned by Guy Guers who served the Isenheim monastery, it took two artists, Niclaus Haguenau- a sculptor and Grünewald- a painter, to complete this religious work of art. The final work decorated the high altar of the monastery hospital’s chapel. It stayed there until the French Revolution, and then moved to a French national library for safekeeping. The altarpiece reached the museum only in the 19th century. The Isenheim Altarpiece still captivates many art lovers, as it is layered with symbolism. The alterpiece has three configurations showing three views; the first view showing a Crucifixion in which Christ is afflicted plague sores to show contemporary plague sufferers that Christ shared and understood their suffering; the second view showing the Annunciation, Enbombment and Resurrection; the third view displays the Last Supper as well as scenes from the life of St Anthony.

The Musée Bartholdi [30 rue des Marchands, +33 389419060, www.musee-bartholdi.com/musee/, ad/ch €4.50/Free] is dedicated to hometown boy, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, famed sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.  You can even find the models that were used to make the Statue, including her huge left ear. The museum also displays Bartholdi’s refined bourgeois apartment. In fact, Colmar expressed its pride in their son by celebrating the centenary of Bartholdi’s death with the construction of a 12m high replica of the Lady Liberty herself.  She stands a few kilometres north of the old city, along rue de Strasbourg, overlooking a string of American-themed stores. (There are, in fact, hundreds of replicas of the Stature of Liberty world wide.)

Try to time your visit to Colmar between mid-May and mid-September if you would like to participate in the town’s festivities. The main highlight is the Soirées Folkloriques – a folk festival that celebrates traditional Alsatian music and dance, with many free street performances.

 

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COLMAR1. Tourist office  2. Train station & electronic tourist booth  3. Avenue de la République  4. rue des Tanneurs  5. rue de la Poissonneirie & Petite Venice sector  6. Collegiale St-Martin  7. Temple St-Matthieu  8. Église des Dominicains  9. Maison Pfister  10. Musée d’Unterlinden  11. Maison des Têtes 12. Musée Bartholdi