Colmar – France

Colmar – France

Colmar is a town in the Haut-Rhin department to the south of the Alsace region, in north-eastern France.

For Georges Duhamel (as he wrote in 1931), Colmar was the “most beautiful town in the world”. It has also often been said that it is the most Alsatian town in Alsace! Without going over the top with superlatives, Colmar undoubtedly remains an exceptional town due to the wealth and variety of its historical and architectural heritage.

The capital of central Alsace, situated near Germany and Switzerland between the Vosges and the Rhine, Strasbourg and Mulhouse, the town offers visitors an exciting glimpse of 1000 years of European history.

Besides, with its 67,000 inhabitants, Colmar retains a ‘country town’ atmosphere which contributes so much to its charm. Wonderfully preserved from the ravages of time, its homogenous historical centre is classed as a ‘protected area’ and has benefited from careful restoration and ongoing improvements for more than 20 years.

The History of Colmar in 20 key dates

823 The Carolingian domain, “Columbarium” was first mentioned in a charter of the emperor, Louis the Pious

1226 Colmar appears in a text as a town in its own right (civitatis).

1278 Rodolphe of Habsburg grants the town franchise under the Franchise Charter.

1354 Colmar participates in the creation of the Décapole, federation of the 10 imperial towns of Alsace.

1360 Colmar is endowed with a new constitution by the emperor, Charles IV, which was a huge victory of the bourgeoisie over the nobility.

1480 Construction of the current building, the Old Customs House or Koïfhus.

1536 The Peasants War causes turmoil in Colmar, and the Reform’s first proponents appear.

1575 Late introduction of the Reform in Colmar.

1635 The Rueil Treaty places Colmar under the King of France’s protectorate

1648 The Munster Treaty in Westphalia: French people leave Colmar, and the Empire’s imminence is confirmed.

1679 The Nimegue Treaty: Colmar becomes a royal town of France.

1698 The Sovereign Council of Alsace is established in Colmar, which becomes the judicial capital of the whole province.

1753 Voltaire spends 13 months in Colmar.

1773 Establishment of the Military Academy of Colmar by the poet and teacher, Pfeffel.

1790 Colmar becomes the county seat of the Upper Rhine département.

1800 Colmar becomes the seat of the prefecture and of the Court of Appeals.

1854 The cholera epidemic claims many lives.

1871 Under the Treaty of Frankfurt, Colmar, like all of Alsace, is annexed to the German Empire.

1918 On November 18th, the jubilant entry of the French troops in Colmar.

1945 On February 2nd, the town is liberated after the harsh battles of the “Pocket of Colmar.”

Architectural heritage of Colmar

The pedestrian precinct in historical Colmar, lets visitors admire the unquantifiable wealth of the town’s heritage, which is remarkable in every way. The Middle Ages left the old town with superb examples of Gothic architecture, such as the Saint Martin Collegiate church and the Dominican Church , which bear witness to a simplified form of art which is both pure and austere. Originally Romanesque in style, the enlargement of Saint Martin Collegiate church began in 1235 and continued for more than a century. The church’s choir, made by Wilhelm von Marburg, was completed in the mid 14th century.

The religious architecture of the mendicant orders belongs to a separate category: present in Colmar as from the 13th century, the Dominicans and the Franciscans left them with remarkable examples of architecture: vast churches like those of the Dominicans (completed in 1346 and which currently hosts the masterpiece made by Martin Schongauer, ‘The Virgin in the Rose Bush’) or that of the Franciscans, the church of Saint Matthew, where numerous events and classical music concerts such as the symphonic concerts of the International Festival of Colmar are now held.

A number of civic buildings bear witness to Colmar’s architectural splendour in the Middle Ages, for example, Maison Adolph which dates back to the second half of the 14th century and also, ‘Huselin zum Swan’ in rue Schongauer.

The Koïfhus (the old Customs House), completed in 1480, is the town’s oldest public building. At the time, it played a central role in Colmar’s economy. First mentioned in 1370, it was used for the storage and transit of all goods imported in Colmar.

Traders got their supplies here; the weights and measurements office weighed goods and set the royalties to be paid. A committee which held its sessions at the Koïfhus was responsible for the town’s funds.

On the first floor, part of the building was used by administrative and political bodies. A large room decorated with stained-glass windows depicting Decapolis towns was developed at the end of the 15th century into a room for Council sessions.

A Customs House until 1810 and then home to the Chamber of Commerce (1870 – 1930), the Koïfhus, which underwent important restoration works between 1984 and 2002, hosts a large number of events (trade shows, exhibitions, Christmas fares, etc.).

The Renaissance is omnipresent throughout the old town. One example is the well-known Maison Pfister (1537), symbol of Colmar and one of the most beautiful bourgeois homes to have survived.

‘Maison des Têtes ‘ (1609), which takes its name from the 111 heads and grotesque masks which adorn its façade, evokes the traders’ ‘golden age’ and bears witness to the affluence enjoyed by Colmar’s trading bourgeoisie. The French classical period left Colmar with a number of pretty buildings, for instance, the Palais du Conseil Souverain and the Ancien Hôpital with its austere and balanced proportions and which shall host the town’s new media library within a few years.

Strolling along the streets, visitors can admire the numerous beautiful signs and brightly coloured roofs or relax on the quai de la Poissonnerie. It used to be an important fishing port and fish market. Since then, this picturesque neighbourhood has been called ‘Little Venice’.

Nature and green tourism in Colmar

Colmar has achieved a 4-flower rating since 1984 and was awarded the national Blossom Grand Prize in 1996.

Colmar, a typically Alsatian town, has a great deal of charm that is enhanced by multitudes of flowers everywhere you look.

Colmar is located on the Lauch river, with the Logelbach canal flowing through it.

There are many activities available for nature lovers or sport addicts.

The magic of lights in Colmar

Colmar was the first town in France to put in place an operation of such amplitude and, in 1997, was awarded the special prize of the Académie des Arts de la Rue (Academy for road arts) for its truly exceptional achievement.

  • All year round, an original lighting concept

900 computer-driven light sources, using the fibre optics cable network, are skilfully distributed throughout the town and thus allow an original light show throughout the year, which varies in intensity and colour.

Like a magic paintbrush, it redraws the town, applying fresh contours and new reliefs, enhancing a thousand and one architectural details.

The town is illuminated from nightfall on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the whole year, and every evening during major events marking the life in Colmar: the International Festival, Regional Alsace Wine Fair and Christmas in Colmar.

  • Designed by architects of light

This project to use light to enhance the town´s heritage was realised by the Town of Colmar, the Tourist Office and the Régie Municipale de Colmar (Colmar municipal association, which is now called Vialis) and also architects of light and based on two types of lighting system which are operational throughout the year; one is static and the other dynamic.

The static lighting system picks out landmarks (houses, gables, roofs) pointing the way to your progression through the town and linking the various “Districts” one to the other.

The dynamic lighting system cross fading on the “beacon” sites which attract your attention and creating the ambiance which corresponds to the chosen period (change of colour or intensity leading to a definite change of setting as the hours go by).

Four themes were used to create the directing schedule behind these illuminations: water, air, earth and fire.

Blue, which corresponds to the air and to the sky, brushes the rooftops; sea green, very evident on the river banks, accentuates the reflections of buildings and trees in the water; white symbolises the fire of faith when it alights on church towers. As for the colour golden amber, it represents the earth of Alsace, a land of transition and exchange.

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