Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Petit France: You feelin' lonely, sailor?
Tomorrow will be my last full day in Strasbourg. Our flight for Rekjavik leaves Friday morning – we arrive in Halifax on Monday.
So, the tour’s over for now. There was an awful lot that I wanted to blog about before leaving – why the Marechal de Saxe is buried in Strasbourg even though he had no connection to the city, the location of the most ghoulish playground I’ve ever seen, the reason why there are three churches named after St Peter within a mile of each other in Strasbourg, the reason why the Cathedral bell rings every night at 10:05 – but I simply don’t have the time.
So, as my final Strasbourg city tour post actually from the city (though I make no promises that it will be the last ever), I give you Petit France.
Petit France is a neighbourhood of historic Strasbourg, and is the second-most visited attraction here after the Cathedral. It’s chock-a-block with the half-timbered architecture that characterizes the villages of the countryside, most dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. Their flower-laden profiles reflect in the waters of the many canals that run through the area.
The canals actually are the reason why the houses are still here, rather than being torn down in favour of the stone buildings that dominate the old town. These canals powered the mills and leatherworks that comprised the industry of old Strasbourg. However, these industries were distinctly smelly, and staffed by lower-class folk. The neighbourhood thus was avoided by the better class of people, who clustered together at the other end of the island, while Petit France was left to moulder: the landlords renting to the working class residents couldn't be bothered improve their properties. They were therefore saved from the wrecking ball.
So why the name? Petit France was so-called long before the French took possession of the city. It was, in fact, the German soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire that gave the neighbourhood its name. There was a hospital in the area, specifically there to treat those soldiers that had contracted syphilis - “The French Disease” – from the neighbourhood’s professional ladies.
And thus, Strasbourg’s most photographed neighbourhood is a former slum named after a venereal disease.