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The Region of Alsace France

The Region of Alsace - Region 1 of 22 France Regions

Alsace [and Lorraine], unlike the other French Regions, abound in both French and German influences.  The region is situated in mid-eastern to north-eastern France.  It is bound to the north by Germany and to the east by the Rhine River [with Germany across the Rhine], to the south by Switzerland and the region of Franche-Comté and to the west by the beautiful Vosges mountains and the region of Lorraine.

Much of Alsace is found on a fertile alluvial plain, between the Rhine River and the Vosges mountains in the west.  The lower area, that rises from the Rhine, is checkered with vineyards.  The higher slopes are forested and sprinkled with monasteries and old castles.

The region of Alsace consists of the départements of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin.  Its principal cities are Colmar, Mulhouse and the regional capital Strasbourg.

Alsace [and Lorraine] is unique, among French regions, due to its dual Franco-Germanic cultures.  The majority of the population speaks French with a decided German accent, the cuisine is an able blend of French and German cooking, many of the towns of the region have German names and the village architecture delights in a pronounced Germanic influence.

A visit to this area is always a delightful experience.  It provides an enjoyable and relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle. One can drive, or ride a train, along the Rhine and watch the scenery unfold before your eyes.  The word
Magnifique describes this beautiful region, with its peaceful and restful influence.

One can stay in B&Bs [a zimmer frei], on the slopes of the Haut-Rhin the local cuisine and people.  Or, one can visit Strasbourg, the headquarters of the European Parliament, with all of its wonderful architecture, diverse culture and international cuisine.  But in spite of its international flavor, Strasbourg is a somewhat laid back city compared to large cities in general.
 

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The History of Alsace and Strasbourg  

The history of Alsace, and Rhine River History, is well documented to as far back as 58 BC and the Celts.  Through the centuries it has been the object of multiple invasions by a succession of Germanic tribes.   During the 5th century, the Alemanni tribe successfully invaded the region.  In 496, the Merovingien Franks, under Clovis I, conquered the Alemanni, making Alsace a Frankish duchy.   

During the decline of the Merovingien Dynasty, the area that resembles that of today’s départements of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin was taken. 

In 842 AD the Strasbourg Oath, an accord written in Romance (a French language forerunner) and Teutonic (old German), created the Treaty of Verdun.  This became the basis, some time after Charlemagne's death, for dividing his Holy Roman Empire among the three sons of Louis I  [See: Holy Roman Empire Timeline, some of the Holy Roman Empire's Emperors and the Map of the Holy Roman Empire.]

In 843, Alsace was integrated into Lothair’s kingdom of Lotharingia with other German territories belonging to the Carolingians and was Christianized.  From the Treaty of Mersen, in 870, to the 17th century, it was ruled by Holy Roman Empire Emperors, becoming part of the duchy of Swabia [Alemannia] when Charles the Bald and Louis the German divided Lotharingia.  The ten major cities of Alsace then flourished, under the sponsorship of the Holy Roman emperors, as free imperial cities. 

In the medieval period, Colmar, Haguenau and Strasbourg took on greater importance and became free imperial cities.  During the Reformation, Strasbourg became the center of Alsatian Protestantism.  The attempts, by the Catholic Habsburgs to eradicate the heresy, only served to make the Protestants more resolute. 

During the Wars of Religion, of the late 16th century, French influence in the region grew.  With the Thirty Years’ War, Alsatian cities appealed to the French crown to aid against the Catholics.  In 1648, the Peace of Westphalia made Alsace an informal French protectorate  and then a French province.  In 1681, under Louis XIV, the French occupied Strasbourg and took complete control of Alsace.  By the beginning of the French Revolution, Alsace had been completely incorporated into France by its division into the two départements of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin in 1789.   

Between the years 1815 and 1870 the ties between Alsace and the rest of France were tightened through the establishment of universal suffrage in 1848 and the building of the railroads.  But, France’s defeat, at the hands of the Germans in 1871, removed Alsace and part of Lorraine, from the French map, annexing it to Germany until 1918. 

In 1940, the German Blitz outflanked the French fortifications along the Maginot Line.  Under the armistice of 1940, Germany again occupied Alsace.  France regained her lost provinces following the Allied victory in World War II. 

Fully one-third of Alsace’s population lives in Colmar, Mulhouse and Strasbourg.  In the country, the fertile rural areas are densely populated, resulting in land holding being small and fragmented.  This is the region of thriving viticulture and the production of such wines as Auxerrois, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pino Gris, Muscat Ottonel, Riesling and Sylvaner.  Alsace is also known for its beer.  Hops, sugar beets and tobacco are also grown.   

The region’s Grand Canal d’Alsace produces hydroelectric power at Kembs and Ottmarscheim and there is a nuclear power plant in Haut-Rhin at Fessenheim.  The region constitutes one of the most important industrial areas in France. 

Manufactured items include chemicals, electrical appliances and textiles.  Potash is mined and processed. 

Strasbourg is known as the crossroads of Europe, and the European Capital. In 1949 the Council of Europe and the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine River were formed in Strasbourg.   The city was also chosen to be the site for the European Parliament and for the headquarters of the European Court of Human Rights.  The Parliament building opened in 1999.  Strasbourg and Geneva are the only non-capital cities to have such important international institutions.

Strasbourg is on the north-south and east-west trade routes of central Europe.  The town has a complete barge port that is located on the Rhine, east of the city, that has become one of France’s leading grain ports.  For more detailed info on Strasbourg

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The Gastronomy of Alsace 

The Wine of Alsace
Alsatian wines are ‘extraordinaire’ and very different from their German counterparts.  In fact, the taste of Alsatian Rieslings differs greatly from Rieslings that are produced in other parts of the world.  Futhermore, unlike all other French wines, Alsacian Riesling is known for its grape and not for the region it is grown in.  The Gewurtzraminer is another favorite of Alsace and comes from a much fruitier and robust tasting grape.

The Cheese of Alsace
Alsace is known for its Munster Cheeses 

The Cuisine - the traditional foods of Alsace consist of:
Charcuterie = Pork specialties
Choucroute = Sauerkraut
Chocolates
Foie Gras = Goose or duck liver pâtés
Tarte a l'oignon = Tarte aux Quetsches is among famous Alsace recipes
It consists of a tart of plums in flan

The Economic Activity of Alsace

The Agriculture of Alsace
Fully one-third of Alsace’s population lives in Colmar, Mulhouse and Strasbourg.   The fertile rural areas are densely populated.  This results in land holding being small and fragmented.  This is the region of thriving viticulture and the production of such wines as Auxerrois, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Riesling.  Alsace is also known for its beer.  Hops, sugar beets and tobacco are also grown. 

Alsatian agricultural production includes:  fois gras, vegetables, chocolate and, of course, wonderful wines and beers.  Alsace also boasts its famous brandy, Eaux de vie.  

The Industry of Alsace  
The region’s Grand Canal d’Alsace produces hydroelectric power at Kembs and Ottmarscheim and there is a nuclear power plant in Haut-Rhin at Fessenheim.  The region constitutes one of the most important industrial areas in France.  Manufactured items include chemicals, electrical appliances and textiles.  Potash is mined and processed.

Artisan manufactured goods include: pottery, glassworks, wood items, wood and stone sculptor, painting and more.  

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