The winding alleyways of Luxembourg's picturesque old town can be explored on foot and offer a variety of historic houses, imposing buildings and idyllic squares in the midst of a dreamlike landscape.
The beautiful old town of Luxembourg City has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. The surroundings of Luxembourg's capital also have several museums and numerous architectural highlights to offer.
From the striking Bock Rock, which houses the famous underground passages of the "casemates" as remains of the former fortifications of Luxembourg City, it is only a few minutes' walk to the picturesque maze of alleys in Luxembourg's Old Town via the Montée de Clausen.
At the end of Rue Sigefroi, you enter the delightfully narrow Rue de la Loge, where a house oriel greets you with the oft-quoted Luxembourg motto "Mir welle bleiwe, wat mir sin" ("We want to stay what we are").
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Fëschmaart (Fish Market)
Thecentre of Luxembourg's picturesque old town has always been the Fëschmaart, the historic fish market. Two Roman roads once crossed here and Luxembourg's first markets were held in front of the Count's Castle. Today, the Fish Market is home to the National Museum of Art and History, St. Michael's Church and the Luxembourg State Council building.
National Museum of Luxembourg
The Nationalmusée fir Geschicht a Konscht or MNHA (Musée National d'Histoire et d'Art) displays works of art and artefacts from all periods of Luxembourg's past, including paintings, sculptures, coins, weapons, armour and a 25,000-volume library.
The museum was founded in 1854 by the Société archéologique and quickly became the centre of Luxembourg's museums. In 1922, the museum was moved to the Fish Market, and in 2002 a modern extension was added by the architects Christian Bauer et Associés.
St. Michael's Church
St. Michael's Church is the oldest church in Luxembourg City . It was originally the castle chapel of the Counts of Luxembourg, built in 987. The present building dates from 1688 and contains Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque stylistic elements. Its massive organ was declared a "Monument historique" in 1959.
Grand Ducal Palace
Directly opposite the National Museum, the Grand Ducal Palace of Luxembourg towers unmistakably, flanking almost the entire Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes. The Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies has been located immediately to the right of the imposing palace since 1859.
Thetown hall of Luxembourg City used to stand here, but it was destroyed in a powder explosion in 1554. The present building was still used as the town hall until 1817, when it served as the first residence of the representative of the Dutch king-grand duke in Luxembourg.
Today, the impressive palace is mainly used for state receptions and as an office building for the Grand Duke's family and their employees. At Christmas, the Grand Duke's Christmas wishes are transmitted to the population from the Yellow Room.
Place Guillaume II (Knuedler)
Two streets west of the Grand Ducal Palace, the spacious Place Guillaume II opens up. A bronze equestrian statue commemorates the former Grand Duke William II, who was King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg from 1840 to 1849.
Place Guillaume II hosts the colourful weekly market every Wednesday and Saturday, with stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, cheese and flowers. Furthermore, open-air concerts and festivities, including the famous rock festival "Rock um Knuedler", are held at Place Guillaume II.
Luxembourg City Hall
The "Hôtel de Ville", Luxembourg's city hall, is enthroned at the southern end of the Place Guillaume II. The neoclassical building was constructed between 1830 and 1838, largely from stones from the old Franciscan monastery.
In 1844, the City Hall in Luxembourg City was inaugurated by Grand Duke William II, after the end of the Belgian Revolution. The two proud bronze lions flanking the outer staircase of the Town Hall were erected in 1931.
Why is the place called Knuedler?
Place Guillaume II is called "Knuedler" by the people of Luxembourg. This nickname comes from the "Knued", the knot of the belt of the Franciscan monks whose church and monastery were located on the square since the 13th century.
In 1797, however, the monastery complex was confiscated by the French and sold off in small pieces under Napoleon. In the following decades, the square was completely redesigned according to plans by the Belgian architect Justin Remont.
Diagonally opposite the Place Guillaume II, in the pedestrian zone, is the Place d'Armes (Parade Square), where the Luxembourg City Tourist Information Office is also located. Together with the Knuedler, it forms the centre of Luxembourg's capital.
The Place d'Armes is a popular meeting place with its numerous street cafés under shady lime trees. Concerts are held at Place d'Armes in summer and the Christmas market in winter.
The cosy square is dominated by the monumental Cercle Municipal from 1909, which today functions as a cultural centre.
Also worth mentioning is the Dicks-Lentz monument at the west end of the Place d'Armes. Pierre Federspiel celebrates here the two Luxembourgish poets Dicks (actually Edmond de la Fontaine) and Michael Lentz from the 19th century. The motto of the Luxembourgers can also be found here: We want to stay what we are!
Notre Dame Cathedral
If you walk along Rue Chimay between Place d'Armes and Place Guillaume II, you come to Rue Notre Dame, named after Notre Dame Cathedral. The monumental church is the only cathedral in Luxembourg and is also known as the "crown of the old town".
Notre Dame Cathedral is a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture. Its interior is enthroned with a magnificent high altar and ornate alabaster figures, mystically illuminated by the coloured round-arched windows.
History of the Cathedral Note Dame
The origins of the cathedral go back to 1613, when a Jesuit church was built in Notre Dame Cathedral. The master builder of the church at that time was Ulrich Job from Lucerne.
The core of today's cathedral, which is also called St. Mary's Cathedral, dates from the 18th century. In 1773, after the Jesuits had left Luxembourg, Maria Theresa of Austria donated the church to the city. At that time it was dedicated to Saint Nicholas and Saint Theresa.
Since 1848, the church has been called Notre Dame. In 1870, Pope Pius IX made it a cathedral. The last renovation of the church took place in the 1930s, in the course of which it was also generously extended. The challenge of harmoniously integrating the additions to the cathedral into the architectural surroundings was brilliantly mastered by the Luxembourg architect Hubert Schumacher.
Visit to Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral is a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture, but also features Renaissance elements and decorations. Inside, a magnificent high altar is enthroned with a gilded statue of Mother Mary. Baroque angels made of soft white alabaster, sculpted in the early 17th century by the Freiberg artist Daniel Müller, make music between polished leaves and flowers. Sunlight illuminates the spacious interior in gentle rays through the coloured glass windows.
The impressive organ in the west gallery dates from 1880 and was enlarged in 1929. Its rich sounds can still be complemented by a second, smaller organ.
The 11 bells in the west tower of the cathedral, which already belonged to the Jesuit church, also produce full tones. The east and central towers were only added in the course of the expansion in the 1930s, the latter rising only a third of the height of the other two towers.
In the crypt of Notre Dame Cathedral, some Grand Duchesses of Luxembourg are buried among other famous personalities.
At the other end of the cathedral is Place Clairefontaine, where there is a bronze monument to the Grand Duchess Charlotte.
Gëlle Fra (Golden Lady)
From the cathedral, heading south, you reach the large F.D. Roosevelt Boulevard and immediately on the right you see the Place de la Constitution with the Gëlle Fra.
The monument on the edge of Luxembourg's old town is actually called "Monument du Souvenir" and commemorates the fallen soldiers of the First World War. The monument was created by the Luxembourg artist Claus Cito, who completed the monument in 1923.
The gilded bronze statue of a woman, with a laurel wreath in her raised hands, looks down on the street from a 21-metre-high granite obelisk. Who modelled the figure is unknown. The fact is, however, that the memorial caused a stir when it was unveiled because of the Gëlle Fra's light clothing. The church even described the Gëlle Fra as "purest nudity".
The two bronze statues at their feet represent one fallen soldier and another mourning his comrade. The two statues represent the thousands of brave men who reported for duty in France during the First World War and did not return home.
In the meantime, the Gëlle Fra went with history and is now also considered a memorial to the victims of the Second World War and the Korean War. It is also seen by the people of Luxembourg as a symbol of freedom and resistance.
Fall of the Gëlle Fra in the Second World War
On 21 October 1940, the Gëlle Fra was toppled from its pedestal by German occupiers in Luxembourg City. A few hundred people witnessed the spectacle and demonstrated loudly against the dismantling, so that 48 people were immediately arrested by the National Socialists. From then on, the statue remained missing.
It was not until 1980 that the Gëlle Fra resurfaced. She was found again by two officials under the main stand of the Luxembourg football stadium and was in pitiful condition. The find was not announced in the newspaper until a year later.
In 1984, the work of art was faithfully restored so that the statue could flank the entrance to the Luxembourg Pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. On 23 June 1985, the Gëlle Fra was rededicated in the presence of the Luxembourg government.
From the Place de la Constitution, you already have a good view of the striking Pont Adolphe, the Adolph Bridge over the Petruss River. The castle-like tower on the south side of the bridge does not belong to a castle, however, but to the municipal savings bank. Together with the bridge, the tower is a wonderful photo motif and inside the municipal savings bank you can visit an amusing banking museum.
Corniche and casemates of Luxembourg
Back along F.D. Roosevelt Boulevard, which runs along the picturesque Petruss Valley, you reach the Corniche of Luxembourg City via Rue du St.-Esprit. This idyllic promenade winds along the banks of the Alzette next to the old ramparts and offers wonderful views of the generously landscaped Grund district. At its end, you are back in Rue Sigefroi.
Also running through the entire centre of Luxembourg City are the so-called casemates. These are the remains of the historical fortifications from the 17th century. The Petruss casemates and the Bock casemates can still be visited today.
PICTURES: Casemates in Luxembourg City
Luxembourg City was a fiercely contested city in the past centuries and was conquered several times. Over the decades, the capital of Luxembourg became the best fortified city in Europe with powerful bulwarks and sophisticated defence systems.
Petruss and Bock Casemates
The first casemates in the old city of Luxembourg were built in 1644, when Luxembourg was under Spanish rule. Forty years later, they were further developed by Vauban, France's famous marshal and fortress builder. Under his supervision, the underground network of the Petruss casemates was created. These were completely walled up in 1903, but 30 years later they were reopened to the public.
The Bock casemates were carved by the Austrians in the middle of the 18th century into the so-called Bockfelsen, a prominent rocky outcrop above the Azette.
Gigantic dimensions of the casemates of Luxembourg City
The casemates criss-crossed the rock on several levels and had a total length of 23km at the time. More than 1,000 soldiers and 50 cannons were stationed on the 110m of the Bock casemates alone.
Some of the tunnels reached 40m deep underground and housed not only guns but also kitchens, slaughterhouses and bakeries to survive in the event of a siege. No wonder Luxembourg was also called the "Gibraltar of the North".
Near destruction of the casemates
In 1867, however, the London Conference decided on Luxembourg's neutrality and all defensive installations had to be destroyed. In addition to the 24 forts that fortified Luxembourg, the casemates also fell victim to demolition.
However, 17 of the 23km have been preserved to this day, as otherwise the foundations of the entire old city of Luxembourg would have been put at risk. The embrasures and entrances were merely sealed. Nevertheless, some houses still have access to the casemates in the basement and the city archives still contain over 1,000 maps of the underground casemate network.
During the two World Wars, the casemates served the population of Luxembourg City well as a protective bunker. 35,000 people escaped enemy bombing raids in this way.
Tour of the casemates
Today, the casemates still serve the city, but in a peaceful way, as one of Luxembourg's top sights. The Bock Casemates and the Petruss Casemates can both be visited on guided tours. Every year, around 100,000 tourists visit the legacy of the generals of the time.
PICTURES: Old Town of Luxembourg City
Official tourism website of Luxembourg City
Prices and opening hours of the National Museum of Luxembourg
Official website of the Grand Ducal Palace
Prices and opening hours of the Bock Casemates
Prices and opening hours of the Petruss Casemates