Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The courtyards at Quai des Bathéliers

Strasbourg is an ancient city. As you walk through the central island, l’île, you pass through narrow passageways among old half timbered buildings. I found one of my architectural highlights at Quai des Bathéliers just over the river thirty years ago, and in May I went back to look for it, and found what I was looking for.

I have already told the story of my first encounter with old Strasbourg. I was, as a young high school pupil, very impressed by the atmosphere in the Alsatian capital.

What really impressed me then was one old back yard that I found at Quai des Batheliers, one of the streets following the Ill river. It was a 400 year old architectural gem, with wooden walkways on two levels. As I visited the city in 1986, I never went back to admire it, but tried last year, and did not find it. This May I was determined to find the old enclosed back yard that made such an impression on me back then.

I had no idea to look, and first I tried the Alsatian museum (above). It looked promising, and had a beautiful back yard, half timbered and with two walkways and with vines climbing along the dark wooden columns, but alas, it was not the right one.

Then I walked a little further down, and found a smaller and less intriguing gate. It revealed no courtyard, but a long, narrow street cutting through the quarter providing a short cut to the next street.

Passages like these are found in many other old cities. I found similar, and much larger and mysterious passageways in medieval Lyon. The "traboules" were passages for the silk weavers and were more tunnels than street and protected the precious fabrics from the elements.

Read more on Lyon's mysterious passageways here

But he who seeks will find. I peeked through a gate and found what I was looking for. A very long yard with long passages and beautiful rustic dark wood. I was suddenly back to 1979 and looked for a sign that I had seen back then, but I did not find it. I remember from then that a famous historic character had been connected to these buildings.

The court had been beautifully restored, it looked so much better now than 20 years ago. The wood had been cleaned and re-painted with tar. Sadly it was divided into two parts and the inner part was sealed off for visitors. I had to sneak up and take a shot through the gate.

It seemed to be part of an office complex. One of the wooden buildings was supported by beautiful stone corinthian columns.

I tried to look for inscriptions to date this complex, and I found one indication on what I think was an old well. On the stone top I could see what could be an old coat of arms , the top of a steering wheel over a star - and the year 1560.

So this building may go back 440 years or even beyond, back to the decades of the turbulent times of the reformation, where Strasbourg was on the front line.

I was so happy to have found the sight that left such a mark back then. Even though I know very little of these buildings, I loved them then and now.

If any know any more about these buildings, kindly let me know by leaving your remark to this article. I will add them to a revised edition of this article.

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